Ohio State Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones died this week in Cleveland from a brain aneurtsm that ruptured while she was driving. She was taken to the Cleveland Clinic and was unable to recover. She was only 58 years old.
Brain aneurysms are little balloon type 'pockets' that are found in the arteries. Many are in the brain but can also be found around the heart or in the legs or other areas of the body.
It is thought that about 4% of people have aneurysms (based on autopsy statistics) which is pretty staggering. Most people don't even know they have an aneurysm and live with it. Unless it ruptures, they can live to be 100 and die of other causes. Aneurysms themselves are not fatal but if they rupture, they can be - and death can be fast. About 10% of people who have an aneurysm will experience a rupture.
WebMD has a question and answer session with Howard Kirshner, MD, professor and chairman of neurology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville. I thought I'd put it here, to educate us a little more about this mysterious but scary condition -
"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.
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."
If anyone has anything to add or had their own experience, I'd love to hear it!
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