Aneurysm or Headache? Know the Signs


The thought of a brain aneurysm can be frightening. But it’s important to remember that most brain aneurysms never rupture – that means they never cause a problem. In fact, The Cleveland Clinic points out that between 2% - 5% of healthy people have an unruptured brain aneurysm, and 25% of them have more than one. However, because the vast majority of aneurysms don’t rupture, these people can live with the issue all their lives and never notice a single symptom.

However, sometimes an aneurysm does rupture, and that is a medical emergency. If symptoms do begin – including the terrible headache that is the universal hallmark of a brain aneurysm – every second counts! In any emergency, 24/7/365, consider an affordable medical alert system to summon help fast.


What is an Aneurysm?


An aneurysm can develop anywhere in the body and is a weak area of a blood vessel that has bulged or ballooned outward. When seen on a scan, an aneurysm can look like a grape on a vine, or a berry hanging on a stem. An aneurysm can occur in the brain, heart, abdomen, or legs[1].


If an aneurysm ruptures – especially one in the brain – that’s a big problem.


When an aneurysm leaks or ruptures, the blood escapes the vessel and spills out into the surrounding area. If this is in the brain, the bleeding most often occurs in the space between the brain and the tissues that surround it. This is known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage[2]. When this happens, your life is in danger, and prompt medical treatment is the only way to ensure you survive.


How Do I Know If an Aneurysm Ruptures?


The biggest sign of a ruptured aneurysm is a sudden, very severe headache. This isn’t an everyday, typical kind of headache that will send you reaching for an over the counter medication. This is the kind of headache that might immediately put you in too much pain to think, much less to move to the medicine cabinet to take something. Many people have described it as the worst headache of their life.


There can be other signs as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:


·         Blurred or double vision

·         Sensitivity to light

·         Nausea and vomiting

·         Stiffness in your neck

·         A drooping eyelid

·         Seizures

·         Confusion

·         Fainting


If the aneurysm is leaking but has not yet ruptured, you might feel only the severe headache. But that’s enough of a warning sign! If you feel a “thunderclap” headache that comes on suddenly with the kind of pain that threatens to bring you to your knees, do not wait to see if it gets better. This can’t be stressed enough! A medical alert pendant can summon emergency assistance right away.


It is possible that you will experience some symptoms of an aneurysm that hasn’t yet ruptured or leaked. These can come on slowly as the aneurysm gets bigger and presses on nerves or certain areas of the brain. The Brain Aneurysm Foundation cautions this might be happening if you have pain above or behind one eye, changes in vision (especially double vision), a dilated pupil, or numbness and weakness. These symptoms warrant a call to your doctor.


Remember, those who get very prompt treatment can often recover fully from a ruptured aneurysm[3].


But Migraines Can Lead to Similar Symptoms, Right?


Migraines can be very severe and can lead to symptoms that mimic that of a brain aneurysm, such as pain above or behind one eye, numbness in the face, weakness, vision changes, and abnormal eye movements. However, WebMD points out that there are some distinct differences. A migraine comes on gradually and the pain becomes more intense with time. It might still come on quickly, but it doesn’t happen in an instant, like a ruptured aneurysm does.


Migraines don’t usually lead to seizures or loss of consciousness. Both of these problems are more common with a burst brain aneurysm.


However, it’s important to remember that while a migraine is distinct from an aneurysm, some studies have found that those who have migraines are at a greater risk for aneurysm. And with an aneurysm that is growing and threatening to burst, you might suffer from migraines in the weeks or months before it happens. That’s why it’s vitally important to visit your doctor if you begin experiencing migraines.


If you are already prone to migraines, make note if a headache feels different than usual[4]. Though the pain might always be intense with a migraine, you might begin to suffer other symptoms as well, such as double vision. If you’ve never had that symptom before, err on the side of caution and get help immediately.


Who is at Greatest Risk of a Ruptured Aneurysm?


An aneurysm occurs where there is a weakness in the wall of an artery. You are more likely to have one if you are an adult woman over the age of 40[5], and your odds increase as you age. Detection of an aneurysm often happens around the age of 50[6].


There are other risks factors as well, including[7]:


·         Smoking

·         Using illicit drugs

·         Alcohol abuse

·         High blood pressure

·         Fatty build-up on the walls of the blood vessels


These factors can be stopped or controlled. There are others you can do nothing about, such as[8]:


·         Polycystic kidney disease

·         Connective tissue disorders

·         A narrow aorta

·         Family history of aneurysm

·         Brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM)

·         Certain blood infections

·         In the aftermath of a severe head injury


What Can Doctors Do to Help?


When an aneurysm ruptures in your brain, internal chaos ensues. Though the bleeding might be over in a matter of seconds, the blood can damage the areas of the brain it touches, and it can increase pressure in the skull. That can disrupt the blood flow even further and compromise the oxygen that your brain needs. A brain aneurysm can lead to an ischemic stroke[9].


Surgery is the most common route to alleviate that pressure and fix the broken blood vessel. This might be done through surgical clipping, in which a neurosurgeon opens up the skull, finds the vessel, and clamps it to stop the blood from leaking. In a less invasive procedure, the surgeon can thread a catheter through an artery to the aneurysm and insert a tiny device that seals the ruptured area.


In some cases, the bleeding stops and you don’t need surgery. However, you need management of the symptoms that result from the aneurysm, including medication to keep it from happening again. These can include pain relievers, calcium channel blockers, drugs that dilate the blood vessels, seizure medications, surgery to reduce pressure, and rehabilitation if you have suffered a bleed severe enough to compromise your function.


The Aftermath of a Ruptured Aneurysm


How your life looks after a ruptured aneurysm depends upon many factors, including where the bleed was and how severe it became, any complications you might have suffered after the initial problem, and underlying conditions that might have made the situation worse. How soon you got medical attention is also a factor, as very prompt assistance can allow for near-immediate intervention and possibly save your life. 


No matter the situation with recovery, you will need some support to get through it and answer the many questions you might have. The Brain Aneurysm Foundation offers a map of support groups throughout the United States, an online support group, a patient resource directory, and much more. It also has a section that focuses on caregivers, so if you need help from a family member as you recover from a ruptured aneurysm, this can be an incredible resource for them.


There are many reasons to use a medical alert watch or pendant for your safety. Alert1 offers medical alert systems for every need, lifestyle, and budget so that if you do suffer from any type of emergency or accident, you can get help immediately, round the clock.