Headaches are a common problem for many, and most people experience them at some point in their lives. But how do you know whether a headache is the result of tension, lack of sleep, dehydration, or something more serious? Not all headaches are harmless. For instance, a sudden, severe headache can indicate a brain aneurysm, which is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate medical treatment.
A brain aneurysm is a protrusion, or bulge, in a blood vessel in the brain. It is caused by a weakness in the blood vessel wall, often where it branches or forks, which causes the blood vessel to balloon as blood passes through it, giving the appearance of a berry hanging on a stem.
Many brain aneurysms only cause noticeable symptoms if they leak or rupture (burst), which can cause bleeding into the brain, known as a hemorrhagic stroke. Usually, a ruptured brain aneurysm occurs in the space between the brain and the thin tissues that cover the brain, and is referred to as a subarachnoid hemorrhage. A ruptured aneurysm requires immediate medical treatment as it can cause extensive brain damage and quickly become life threatening if left untreated.
What Causes a Brain Aneurysm?
Brain aneurysms are more common in adults and in women. The exact cause of a brain aneurysm is unknown, but factors such as older age, family history, cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, heavy alcohol or drug use, an injury, or an infection can increase the risk of developing one. Certain conditions at birth, such as inherited connective tissue disorders, vascular defects, and polycystic kidney disease, can also be associated with an elevated risk of developing a brain aneurysm.
Symptoms of a Ruptured Aneurysm
The key symptom of a ruptured aneurysm is a sudden, severe headache, which is often described as a “thunderclap headache”. It is similar to a sudden strike to the head, resulting in agonizing pain never experienced before. Other symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm can include:
- Stiff neck
- Changes in vision (blurred/double)
- Sensitivity to light
- A drooping eyelid
- Loss of consciousness
An aneurysm, may in some cases, only leak a small amount of blood, known as a sentinel bleed. A leaking aneurysm can still cause a sudden, extremely severe headache. It is a serious condition as often a more severe rupture can follow.
An Unruptured Aneurysm
A majority of brain hemorrhages do not rupture or cause symptoms or health problems, and are often only detected during tests for other conditions. Treatment may be recommended in some cases to try to prevent a rupture in the future.
If a larger, unruptured aneurysm presses on brain tissues and nerves, it can cause symptoms, such as:
- Pain behind and above one eye
- A dilated pupil
- Changes in vision
- Numbness in one side of the face
When to See A Doctor
If you or a loved one develop a sudden and extremely severe headache, have a seizure, or lose consciousness, seek immediate medical treatment as delaying treatment can be life threatening.
Comprehensive Neurological Care in Colorado
If you are experiencing unusual headaches, don’t delay seeking medical advice. Sudden or extremely severe headaches can be life threatening. The surgeons at Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery are experts in all areas of neurosurgery, including complex cranial conditions, aneurysms, and vascular malformations. We practice comprehensive, patient-centered care to help you achieve the best possible outcomes.
For more information about our services, call (303) 790-1800 or use our online form to request an appointment today. We have four convenient locations to serve you in Lone Tree, Parker, Colorado Springs, and Aurora.