Sixteen years ago, my family was stunned when my 49 year old father suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. Aneurysms are widening or dilations of arteries, veins, or the heart (source). The wall of the widening section is weakened, it bulges, and if left without treatment it bleeds. Six weeks ago my family was again stunned when my mother-in-law underwent a similar experience.
Ruptured brain aneurysms are extremely dangerous. It took months for my father to resemble being himself again. At first, he was unable to speak in any words that made sense to us. He underwent several forms of therapy re-learning what was lost with the rupture an example being as small as tying his shoes. In spite of his recovery, he continues to carry reminders of the aneurysm rupture in his slurred speech, forgetful nature, and some personality changes.
My family thought one incident of a ruptured brain aneurysm would be all we would face in our lives. Less than two months ago, my husband called me on the phone asking, “Do you want bad news or bad news? Mom woke up about 3:00am with the worst headache of her life,” He then continued, “Dad took her to Jonesboro (our nearest larger sized city) and she has been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm.”
My mind immediately went to our children, ages 7 and 5. Very late on the night of Nov. 29, 2010 their other “Mimi” died after a six month battle against adenocarcinoma of the colon. The horrible thought of both grandmothers dying three months apart was almost too much to bear.
My mother-in-law underwent an operation where a shunt was placed to drain fluid from the rupture. The doctor said she shouldn’t be alive. Her bleed was extensive. For five weeks, my mother-in-law suffered a feeding tube with no ability to eat otherwise. When she briefly had the tube removed, the food swallowed was aspirating into her lungs. Unlike my dad, her speech is clear and her personality very much in-tact.
It is difficult to compare and contrast my father and my mother-in-law’s symptoms of their ruptured aneurysms because they were at different ages (49 versus 61), they are different sexes (male verses female) and the ruptures were in different places of their brains (frontal lobe verses back). Some symptoms were common however.
Both described a headache unlike anything either had experienced. My mother-in-law said it felt as though her brain had exploded. Both my father and mother-in-law stated the pain was such they did not care if they lived or died while undergoing it. It is important to note the pain was so extreme there was no question something was wrong. Both experienced nausea and vomiting. At this point neither has clear memories of the period when they had the headaches-only of the pain.
My father’s residual problems stem mostly from the area of his brain that was affected-he has frontal lobe deficits. My mother-in-law’s residual problems are more related to swallowing and processes controlled by the back part of the brain. My mother-in-law’s outlook is good because she was in surgery with a shunt within three hours of the initial onset of the pain.
If you believe you or someone you know may have a brain aneurysm rupture it is important to arrive at the hospital as soon as possible. Symptoms of ruptured brain aneurysms are extreme headaches (“the worst headache I’ve had in my life” is a common phrase), nausea and vomiting stemming from the ruptured process or pain, sensitivity to light, dilated pupils, blurred vision, neck pain, and pain above one eye. Two-thirds of people with brain aneurysm ruptures will die either at home or in the hospital. Of the one-third who lives, 40 percent will have neurological problems that remain with time. It is therefore important to pay attention to the signs of brain aneurysms that have not ruptured as well.
Aneurysms that have not yet ruptured leave fewer signs but survival rates are higher. Symptoms can be behavior changes, fatigue, balance problems, speech complications, loss of balance, and short-term memory difficulty. If aneurysms are found but not yet ruptured they are typically removed to prevent traumatic injury or death.
Prognosis of a ruptured aneurysm depends on the extent to which the tissue was affected by the bleed. This level of extent is graded on a scale of zero to a grade of five with zero being the best outcome and five being the worst. A brain aneurysm can be detected on computerized topography (ct) scan usually both before and after rupture. My father’s ruptured aneurysm required a ct scan that revealed another aneurysm not ruptured on the other side of his brain. Once he was recovered from the first the second was removed with no lasting effects.
Many families lose loved ones to brain aneurysms. Thankfully we can say it appears my father survived the experience and my mother-in-law is going to survive. Prompt medical attention should be sought if suffering a headache unlike any previously experienced.