BACKGROUND Intracranial aneurysms and systemic arterial hypertension coexist in a high percentage of patients. The relationship between intracranial aneurysms and hypertension is poorly defined. METHODS Therefore, we reviewed the role of hypertension in the pathogenesis of saccular aneurysms as previously reported in clinical, experimental, and autopsy studies. RESULTS Among 24 relevant clinical and/or autopsy studies, the mean incidence of pre-existing hypertension was 43.5% in aneurysm patients compared to 24.4% in the normal population. Although definitive evidence is lacking, data from multiple types of investigations indicate that systemic arterial hypertension creates a greater risk for the development of intracranial aneurysms than previously believed. The underlying pathophysiological mechanism(s) are also poorly defined. CONCLUSIONS We propose a unifying hypothesis: Endothelial injury, occlusion of the vasa vasorum, and disruption of the synthesis of collagen and elastin are likely the most important factors in initiating the development of aneurysms. Chronic hypertension potentially affects all of these factors. Consequently, chronic hypertension may cause intimal thickening, necrosis of the tunica media, changes in the compositional matrix, and degeneration of the internal elastic lamina to develop in the arterial wall. These structural changes could cause a focal weakening in the arterial wall with resultant bulging. This theory accounts for the high incidence of intracranial aneurysms in the absence of any known associated hereditary or connective-tissue disease. Nor does it exclude the possibility of other etiological factors. From the perspective of prevention, however, it offers clear opportunities for prophylaxis.
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