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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Aneurysms Common, Sometimes Deadly

Brain Aneurysm Triggers Fatal Hemorrhage for Rep. Tubbs Jones, 58

What are the symptoms that an aneurysm has ruptured?

Aneurysms often go undetected because they can have no symptoms until they rupture and bleed. When that happens, it can cause a sudden severe headache and sometimes nothing more than that, Kirshner says. "But it is usually not like any other headache you've had. It is very sudden or severe, the worst headache of your life." Other symptoms include severe neck pain, dizziness, nausea, and sensitivity to light.

One-third to nearly half of patients have minor hemorrhages or "warning leaks" that later lead to a severe devastating brain hemorrhage days later.

Sometimes, when an aneurysm ruptures, it can go unnoticed, with the person passing off the headache. But once it ruptures, Kirshner says, it is more likely to re-bleed.

Is there a typical age bracket for aneurysms to rupture?

"They are most common in middle age -- the 40s and 50s are the peak ages," he says. But they can happen at any age. "I've seen them in teenagers. They do occasionally occur in elderly people."

What can someone do to reduce the risk of an aneurysm growing and rupturing?

"Not smoking and treating hypertension prevent aneurysms from growing and rupturing," Kirshner says.

In general, what is the outlook for someone whose brain aneurysm bursts?

The prognosis, Kirshner says, "is very uncertain." A ruptured aneurysm can cause sudden death, he says. In general, "if you are in bad shape right in the beginning, the odds of recovery are much lower." The overall death rate once the aneurysm ruptures is about 40%, he says.

What might be done when the rupture is discovered?

Getting treatment as soon as possible is critical, he says. If it's possible to do surgery, one option is to go in surgically and put a clip across the aneurysm to stop bleeding. "An even more common surgery is to go through the artery and deploy a coil [into the aneurysm, using a tiny catheter] and the coil causes the aneurysm to shut off." The coil causes a clot to form around the sac, sealing off the aneurysm defect.

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