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Aneurysm vs. Stroke

Aneurysm vs. Stroke

Every year, about 30,000 people in the United States suffer a brain aneurysm rupture, with one occurring every 18 minutes. Although they are two distinct conditions, a ruptured aneurysm in the brain can cause a life-threatening hemorrhagic stroke.

Recognizing the symptoms and understanding the importance of prompt medical attention can save a life. 

What is an Aneurysm?

An aneurysm is an abnormal bubble or enlargement that occurs off the wall of a blood vessel. It can develop in various parts of the body, including the brain, aorta, and arteries. This occurs when a weakened vessel wall can no longer withstand the pressure of blood flowing through it, causing it to balloon outwards. 

Think of the blood vessel as a garden hose. When it forms a small split, a clear bulge develops off the hose, but it still functions properly. The bubble, however, isn’t protected by the hose lining and when the hose is used over and over again, the bubble grows and will eventually burst. 

The major concern with an aneurysm is the risk of rupture, which can lead to severe bleeding and life-threatening complications. Ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal in about 50% of cases. Of those who survive, getting immediate medical attention reduces the risk of permanent brain damage. 

Does a Brain Aneurysm Cause a Stroke?

Brain aneurysms occur within the blood vessels of the brain, which are weakened because of factors such as age, high blood pressure, and certain genetic conditions that affect the inner lining of blood vessels. 

Who is most affected by brain aneurysms?

  • Most prevalent in adults ages 33 to 65, but can occur in children
  • More common among women, with a 3:2 ratio of cases compared to men
  • Particularly common among women over 55 years old, who have a 1.5 times greater risk than men of the same age
  • Twice as likely among African Americans and Hispanics compared to Caucasians

When a brain aneurysm ruptures, it typically releases blood into the fluid space outside of the brain. This sudden bleeding can lead to increased pressure in the brain and deprive brain cells of oxygen, triggering a hemorrhagic stroke

The severity of the stroke will depend on factors such as the size and location of the aneurysm and the promptness of medical intervention. 

The most common symptoms of a ruptured brain aneurysm include:

  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Drooping eyelid
  • Sudden stiff neck or neck pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

It’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms occur, as a brain aneurysm is a medical emergency requiring prompt intervention.

Aneurysm vs. Stroke

While an aneurysm and a stroke are distinct conditions, there is a connection between them. If a brain aneurysm ruptures and causes bleeding in the brain, the hemorrhage can result in a stroke. 

Not all aneurysms lead to strokes, however, and strokes can occur independently of aneurysms. In fact, about 87% of U.S. stroke cases are ischemic, according to the American Stroke Association, occurring when a blood vessel is obstructed due to atherosclerosis or plaque that lines vessel walls.

When you are looking for early warning signs of stroke, remember the acronym BE FAST:

  • B: Balance or coordination issues
  • E: Eyesight becomes blurred or reduced
  • F: Face drooping
  • A: Arm (and leg) weakness
  • S: Speech difficulty
  • T: Time to call emergency services

If you have concerns or experience symptoms related to either medical event, seek prompt medical attention for proper diagnosis and care. Patients who survive the rupturing of a brain aneurysm will receive care from a neurosurgeon or endovascular neurointerventionalist who will repair the portion of the artery that ruptured or bled. 

Signs of an Unruptured Brain Aneurysm

Many aneurysms remain stable or may be treated before they rupture, minimizing the risk of associated stroke.

Identifying an unruptured brain aneurysm often occurs incidentally during medical evaluations or imaging scans for other health concerns. These aneurysms may not exhibit noticeable symptoms, making their detection challenging, but in some cases, an unruptured aneurysm can cause localized headaches, eye pain, or vision changes. 

Regular medical check-ups and discussions with healthcare professionals can aid in the early identification and appropriate management of unruptured brain aneurysms. If you experience persistent or unusual symptoms, seeking medical advice is critical.

Stony Brook Medicine has pioneered many of the most important minimally invasive treatments for brain aneurysms. Most all brain aneurysms requiring treatment can be treated at Stony Brook using minimally invasive endovascular techniques and technologies.

  • David Fiorella, MD, PhD
    Director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular Center
    Co-Director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular and Comprehensive Stroke Center
    Professor of Neurosurgery and Radiology

    Dr. David Fiorella is considered a pioneer in the field of neuro-interventional therapies, advancing new devices and techniques for the treatment of Cerebrovascular disease. He spearheaded the acquisition of 2 Mobile Stroke units for Stony Brook University Hospital, the first program in Suffolk County. He is a senior member of the Society for Neuro-interventional Surgery (SNIS) and senior associate editor of the Journal of Neurointerventional Surgery.

This article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature. Always consult your healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance and treatment.