A few years ago, a close friend of mine had a close, unexpected run-in with a brain aneurysm. More precisely, he had a pseudoaneurysm.
An aneurysm is dilation in a blood vessel that fills with blood. Think about squeezing an inflated balloon so part of the balloon wall stretches. A pseudoaneurysm is a bit different—the wall of the blood vessel is injured but the surrounding tissues contain the blood.
My friend’s problem started when he was stopped at a red light and side-swiped by a fourth-time drunk driver. He thought he was alright with only some soreness in his back and neck. He did not let it disrupt his daily work and social routines.
Around a month later, he was playing ice hockey—in Houston, of all places—and hit his head against a wall, briefly losing consciousness. He went to an emergency room to get checked out. Before he knew it, a medical team rushed to his room and said that they needed to take him to the operating room for immediate surgery. He had an unstable, life-threatening brain pseudoaneurysm that needed to be repaired as soon as possible.
My friend is like many people with an aneurysm or pseudoaneurysm. He had no symptoms whatsoever. The only reason his doctors found it and, in fact, the only reason he is probably alive is the completely unrelated incident where he hit his head playing hockey. But for that, he would have never gotten checked out and would not have had shown any symptoms until, in his case, it would have probably been too late.
All about aneurysms
According to the Cleveland Clinic, most aneurysms are silent and produced no symptoms. When an aneurysm becomes very large, though, it may press on brain structures. This can cause symptoms that may mimic a stroke—things like speech problems, double vision, and loss of balance.
When an aneurysm ruptures, the telltale symptom is a terrible headache, often described as “the worst headache of my life.” Other common symptoms include a stiff neck, loss of consciousness, nausea, and vomiting. With this constellation of symptoms, or a “worst headache” or stiff neck even in isolation, call 911 and get immediate medical attention.
Not all aneurysms require surgery. Those that do may require open surgery, but more frequently are addressed through a minimally-invasive technique applying coils, stents, or pipeline embolization. These procedures are typically performed by neurovascular surgeons.
Women have a slightly higher risk of developing aneurysms and around 60% of ruptured aneurysms occur in women. Ruptured aneurysms typically occur in the age range of 30 to 60 years.
The major risk factors for aneurysm include smoking, persistent high blood pressure, drug use (particularly cocaine), and moderate to high alcohol use (particularly binge drinking).
We are here to help
It is the responsibility of patients and family members to understand the symptoms of aneurysm and seek immediate medical attention when needed. Once that is done, the standard of care requires physicians and healthcare providers to properly evaluate, work up, and treat signs and symptoms of aneurysm.
If you or someone you love has been seriously injured by delayed diagnosis or treatment of aneurysm, our experienced medical negligence attorneys can help. Click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.
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Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2017, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. In May 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.