Brain aneurysm symptoms are silent, but fatal

After the sudden death of ABC news anchor Lisa Colagrossi, many are wondering about brain aneurysms and how they happen.

While on assignment, the 49-year-old reporter was rushed to the hospital, and despite the measures the medical staff took to save her life, she never woke up. Brain aneurysms often strike when you least expect it, but statistics show that around 30,000 Americans suffer from a ruptured brain aneurysm every year. According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, this boils down to one every 18 minutes.

What is a brain aneurysm and what are the symptoms?

An aneurysm of any sort is defined as a ballooning or bulging in the wall of a blood vessel. Unruptured, a brain aneurysm is almost always asymptomatic. Sometimes, however, if one has grown in size and puts pressure on one or more nerves, it can produce symptoms, such as a localized headache, blurred or double vision, pain around or above an eye, dilated pupils, weakness, numbness or difficulty speaking.

A ruptured aneurysm creates similar symptoms, but they are far more intense. Charles Park, M.D., a board-certified neurosurgeon at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, says, “The first sign is the ‘worst headache of life,’ which comes on suddenly.” Other symptoms can include loss of consciousness, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, drooping eyelid or a change in mental status.

What should you do when you suspect someone is having a brain aneurysm?

If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from a brain aneurysm, there are a few things you should do. “One should try not to excite the patient and try to keep calm, as not to raise blood pressure,” says Dr. Park. “Call 911 immediately and try to calm the patient with a quiet room. Keep the lights out, and there should be no smoking around the patient.” Those who experience less intense neurological symptoms should still seek medical care.

What causes a brain aneurysm?

There are certain risk factors that can up your chances of suffering from one, such as smoking, high blood pressure, family history, history of head trauma, being female, being over age 40, using drugs (particularly cocaine) and certain disorders like Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.

The frightening thing is that a potentially catastrophic event can happen even if you think you’re completely healthy. There are no symptoms that the artery walls in your brain (or elsewhere) are thinning or that you’re more prone to developing an aneurysm. That’s why routine screening is recommended for those who are high risk. Not everyone who suffers a ruptured aneurysm dies, although the event is fatal in around 40 percent of cases.

Colagrossi leaves behind two sons and a husband. Our hearts go out to her family.

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