Most headaches are not dangerous but a few are so it is useful to know about the various headaches that can be dangerous so you can recognise the symptoms and know when to seek medical help.
One type of dangerous headache can be caused by a cerebral aneurysm.
A cerebral aneurysm occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is weakened, causing it to bulge as the blood runs through it. About 5 percent of the population develop a cerebral aneurysm at some point in their lives.
However, most of these don’t cause any symptoms or rupture.
If the blood vessel leaks or ruptures it can cause:
• A very sudden severe headache, often more severe than ever experienced before
• Stiff and painful neck
• Eye pain
• Double vision
• Blurred vision or loss of vision
If you have any of these symptoms and they aren’t attributable to another medical condition , you should see your doctor. Sometimes these headache symptoms are a warning sign that a rupture will occur so seeing your health care provider promptly may well avert a life-threatening emergency.
If the aneurysm has already ruptured your headache may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting and you may have additional symptoms such as:
• Stroke symptoms, like drooping eyelids, muscle paralysis or weakness and slurred speech
These symptoms can represent a medical emergency, so if you or a friend or relative is affected by any symptom listed, you should call an ambulance.
Doctors will perform a physical examination. Sometimes there is swelling of the optic nerve of the eye and retinal bleeding due to increased pressure in the brain. They will also assess the patient’s ability to talk, whether they have any weakness and whether they can feel touch.
An MRI or CT scan of the brain will then show if there are any aneurysms. A lumbar puncture (spinal tap) may be done as this can determine if there is any bleeding in the brain.
A test called a cerebral angiography may be done to see how the blood flows through the brain.