Explainer: Symptoms and treatment of brain aneurysms



Posted on August 15, 2009 at 6:42 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 22 at 12:02 PM

(WHAS11) -After Chuck Olmstead suffered a brain aneurysm, many of us in the newsroom started feverishly researching the topic.

What are they? What are the symptoms? What actually happens when a person suffers an aneurysm?

WHAS11's Adrianna Hopkins sat down with the experts for some answers to these questions.

This is also something Chuck's family said they really wanted people to be educated about brain aneurysms. But please know that nothing of what this story is about is specific to Chuck. It's simply general information.

Dr. Steven Reiss, a Neurosurgeon and Chuck's doctor from the Norton Neuroscience Institute starts out with a simple definition of an aneurysm: a bulging, weak area in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain.

Two things can happen. In rare cases it will rupture, but in most cases, it will not.

"Sometimes they can occasionally be quite large-2 or 3 centimeters. But most of them are a centimeter or less in size. And sometimes you never know you have them," explains Reiss.

The rupturing of a brain aneurysm results in what is called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. If that's happening, Dr. Reiss says, you'l l know because people describe it as feeling like they've been hit in the head with a 2 x 4.

At this point, one of three things can happen: a back up of spinal fluid, further bleeding, or a vasospasm, the last of which is the most problematic.

"Blood vessels have muscles. Muscles go into spasm, similar to a charley horse in a muscle in the leg. When that happens, the blood vessel can clamp down and allow no blood to go through, in which case the person can have a stroke."

There are two ways to treat an aneurysm. If it's in the right location, doctors can coil it-inserting metal coils into the aneurysm and causing the weak spot to clot while still allowing blood to go through the vein.

Or they can clip it, which is actual surgery.

"Analogous if you have a blister across the side of the garden hose, and you're afraid it's going to ruptureyou put something there to close the weak part, but allow blood to flow through the vessel," explains Reiss.

He says all bleeding starts with a headache. But don't go rushing to the hospital over every headache you have. If you have severe headaches and they're getting worse, ask your doctor for a CAT scan and go from there.