Skip to content
My WebMD Sign In, Sign Up

Brain & Nervous System Health Center

Font Size
A
A
A

Aneurysms Common, Sometimes Deadly

Brain Aneurysm Triggers Fatal Hemorrhage for Rep. Tubbs Jones, 58
By
WebMD Health News

aneurysm_qa.jpg

Aug. 21, 2008 -- The type of brain aneurysm that triggered a hemorrhage and killed Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), 58, late Wednesday is not uncommon, says a neurology expert from Vanderbilt University.

Often, a brain aneurysm will go undetected and not cause problems, says Howard Kirshner, MD, professor and chairman of neurology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. But if it ruptures, it can quickly prove fatal, Kirshner says.

Tubbs Jones died Wednesday evening after being admitted to Huron Hospital at the Cleveland Clinic late Tuesday evening, according to Kevin Ziegler, a clinic spokesman. "Throughout the course of the day and into this evening, Congresswoman Tubbs Jones' medical condition declined," according to the statement announcing her death.

Kirshner, who did not treat Tubbs Jones and is not familiar with her medical history, agreed to answer some questions about brain aneurysms for WebMD.

What is a brain aneurysm?

"An [unruptured] aneurysm looks kind of like a balloon, an out-pouching of an artery," Kirshner says. "It almost always occurs at a point where the artery branches off."

While Tubbs Jones had a cerebral, or brain aneurysm; aneurysms can also occur in the aorta (the major artery from the heart), the leg, and other areas. Aneurysms are related to weaknesses in the blood vessel wall.

How common is a brain aneurysm?

''We think that many people have them -- up to 4% have it at autopsy," Kirshner says, citing research, but many show no symptoms. According to Kirshner, about 5% of people will develop a brain aneurysm during their lifetime, but only about 10% of them will experience a rupture.

As a crude estimate, he says, perhaps 25,000 to 50,000 people a year in the U.S. have a brain hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm. Family history plays a role, experts believe. Family members of a patient with a brain aneurysm have an increased risk of having one. Yet only a small percentage of these are related to hereditary syndromes associated with aneurysms.

Women are more likely than men to have an aneurysm, and African-Americans have more risk of hemorrhage from an aneurysm than do whites.

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.

Today on WebMD

Depressed
Slideshow
3d scan of fractured skull
Slideshow
 
human brain waves
Article
brain maze
fitQuiz
 
senior man
Article
brain research briefing
Article
 
Syringe
Article
graphic of human head
Article
 
mans hands on laptop keyboard
Article
brain illustration stroke
Slideshow
 
most common stroke symptoms
Article
Parkinsons Disease Medications
Article