People often confuse two conditions that seem similar in many ways, but are actually quite different: strokes and aneurysms. They are both serious conditions that directly affect the brain. However, they have differing symptoms and also some of the same symptoms. A stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency affecting the brain, while an aneurysm in the brain can lead to a stroke.
Both strokes and aneurysms are the result of problems in the blood vessel walls. It is important to understand the differences between the two conditions, as well as the symptoms of each, so that you can recognize them and get prompt medical attention.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke happens when the flow of blood to the brain is compromised. This can be the result of a blood clot blocking a vein in the brain. Lack of oxygen causes brain cells to die and compromises cognitive functions in that area of the brain, which can include memory, motor control, language, and other functions. A stroke can also be caused by blood making its way out of the veins and flowing uncontrollably.
Symptoms of a stroke may include:
- drooping on one side of the face
- difficulty swallowing
- slurred speech
- inability to talk
- weakness or numbness in the arm
- inability to lift arms
- paralysis of the body (commonly on one side of the body)
- blurry vision or sudden vision loss
- difficulty understanding others
- loss of balance
If you, or anyone you know experiences any of these symptoms, call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room right away.
What Is an Aneurysm?
A brain aneurysm occurs when a vein is obstructed or blocked higher up, causing the vessel to balloon with blood. If an aneurysm is not caught early and it bursts, blood can enter the brain, causing damage. If this happens, it is referred to as a hemorrhagic stroke. Brain aneurysms occur less frequently than strokes; however, when they do occur, they tend to be more deadly.
Aneurysms that have not burst generally do not produce many symptoms. Usually symptoms appear only if the bulge is large enough, when it is at a higher risk of bursting. If you’ve been diagnosed with an aneurysm and develop any of the following symptoms, seek medical help as soon as possible to prevent a burst.
A brain aneurysm that has not yet burst can produce the following symptoms:
- vision issues, such as double vision
- pain around or above the eyes
- enlarged pupils
- face numbness
- balance issues
- difficulties speaking
- trouble thinking
When an aneurysm has burst, symptoms can include:
- sudden and extreme “thunderclap” headache
- stiff neck
- sensitivity to light
If you experience a sudden and extremely painful headache, seek help immediately, as this is the most common symptom of a leaking or ruptured aneurysm. This is also the symptom that can help differentiate between a stroke and an aneurysm. Since an aneurysm is potentially more likely to result in death than a stroke, you need to tell the doctor right away about your symptoms.
The best way to try to prevent strokes or aneurysms is to maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes a good diet and regular exercise. Be sure to visit your doctor regularly and discuss any risk factors you may have, such as a history of smoking, family history, or previous medical conditions. Most importantly, be mindful of any and all symptoms you experience – it can help save your life.
Neurology Expertise in Colorado
If you or a loved one have suffered from a stroke or aneurysm, you are not alone. The doctors and staff at Front Range Spine and Neurosurgery in Colorado are here to help. Our board-certified surgeons are experts in all areas of neurosurgery, including cerebral conditions like strokes and aneurysms.
To request an appointment, call (303) 790-1800 or use our online form.