According to a study published Monday, people with a common heart defect are several times more likely to suffer brain aneurysms than those who do not have the problem.
Some two percent of the population are born with the defect, known as a bicuspid aortic valve (BAV), in which flaps that regulate blood flow do not develop fully during gestation. The problem can lead to leakage of the aortic valve in some people, particularly in adulthood.
Research has shown that similar artery problems may also occur in the brain, where aneurysms are a weakening in an artery that causes it to bulge.
"Since brain aneurysms are a treatable problem that can lead to death and disability if they rupture, we wanted to find out how common they are in people with BAV," said study author Wouter Schievink, the director of microvascular neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Schievink and others studied 61 people with BAV and screened them for brain aneurysms. They also scanned 291 people who did not have BAV, but were being scanned for a suspected stroke or brain tumor.
Six of the 61 people with BAV -- or 9.8 percent -- had brain aneurysms, compared with just three of the 291 non-BAV subjects, or 1.1 percent.
Between 0.5 and 2.0 percent of the general population have brain aneurysms, the researchers said, citing previous studies.
"While more research needs to be done to confirm these results, these findings show a significant increased risk of brain aneurysms in people with bicuspid aortic valves," Schievink said in the study published in Neurology, the journal of the American Academy of Neurology.