Brain aneurysms kill people suddenly every year, yet few of us know what the warning signs of this deadly attack are. Recent estimates suggest that 90% of Americans are not sure what a brain aneurysm really is. And because anything from between 6% to 9% of people actually have an aneurysm, this lack of knowledge is tragic. This necessary guide will give you important information about brain aneurysms, telling you everything you need to know, and explaining what you can do to spot the signs before the worst happens.
Lisa Colagrossi's story
Some of you may know the story of Emmy Award nominated US news anchor, Lisa Colagrossi, who died in 2015 from a brain aneurysm, aged only 49. Lisa was a hard working woman who began to feel excruciating head pain. After discussing it with her husband, she decided to let it pass and get on with her work. Sadly, she was taken ill and died only two weeks after the initial headache passed.
Following this awful turn of events, Lisa’s husband established the Lisa Colagrossi Foundation (LCF) to raise public awareness about the silent killer that had taken her away from him and their two poor children. Her husband understood that it was only a lack of knowledge that prevented Lisa from going to the doctor before it was too late.
This story dramatically illustrates the need for more widely spread knowledge about brain aneurysms.
What is a brain aneurysm?
Neurosurgeon at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, Howard Riina, MD, describes a brain aneurysm as a weakness of the wall in one of the brain’s blood vessels. The weakness lets the wall form a bulge, due to the pressure of the blood running through the vessels. When this bulge becomes over-inflated it can rupture and seep blood into the brain tissue.
This bulge, or aneurysm, is something that anywhere from 6% to 9% of us are walking around with, unaware that it could rupture. They can even be seen on an MRI scan. Yet if the aneurysm is of a tolerably small size, doctors will not recommend invasive and dangerous surgery.
When you suffer a rupture
The frightening description above may give you the idea of blood squirting all over the place, but the truth is not quite so dramatic. There may be a little dribble for a few moments, but generally a platelet plug naturally forms, according to Riina. However, even this little trickle can be fatal. Between 30% to 50% of sufferers die immediately after a rupture occurs.
The small blood leak irritates the brain tissues it comes into contact with, and this drastically increases pressure within the head. Furthermore, the loss of blood is catastrophic for the brain regions which have lost out. These areas need a constant supply of blood to function as they should.
Pressure and a lack of blood together combine to induce either death or unconsciousness.
Signs and symptoms of rupture
Here are several symptoms that have been reported by those who have suffered a rupture:
• An excruciating headache
• Neck stiffness
• Tingling face
• Light sensitivity
• Weak limbs
• Blurry or double vision
• Extreme tiredness
Most of these symptoms are secondary, however, to the headache. Colagrossi’s husband describes this as “W-H-O-L” or ‘the worst headache of your life’. This could be felt anywhere and at any time, though it may be felt more strongly behind the eyes. It is hard to describe this pain, some compare it to being hit by a bolt of lightning, others have said it felt like hearing a gun shot.
What to do
Riina’s advice is that if you or someone close to you experiences any of these symptoms, make an emergency call for an ambulance or go to the hospital directly. Doctors have several things they can do to get rid of the pressure that results from the rupture, but that doesn’t mean that everything will be well.
Of those who receive treatment a third die, a third suffer permanent impairment, and a further third go back to normal. The goal of the Lisa Colagrossi Foundation is to help increase the number of people who can go back to normal. He says:
"If someone had been doing the work we're doing now to raise public awareness, Lisa and millions of others would still be alive."