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Key difference between migraine and brain aneurysm symptoms, according to an expert

The rupturing of a brain aneurysm usually produces a headache unlike any experienced before

Olivia Blair
Tuesday 25 April 2017 09:24 BST
(Getty istock)

A neurologist has shared the warning signs of a ruptured brain aneurysm after a woman died believing she just had a severe migraine.

Lee Broadway, 42, from North Carolina died at the beginning of April two days after telling her husband Eric she was leaving work because of the intense pain of a migraine. She had suffered from migraines as a child but felt this episode was different and later died in hospital from complications of a brain aneurysm.

A brain aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel in the brain caused by a weakness in the blood vessel wall. If an aneurysm bursts or ruptures it can lead to a subarachnoid haemorrhage where bleeding caused by the rupture aneurysm causes brain damage and severe symptoms.

Dr Howard A Riina, professor of neurosurgery at NYU Langone Medical Centre told People that the pain associated with a brain aneurysm is often described as the “worst headache of someone’s life”. The NHS also says the headache has been described as a ‘thunderclap headache’ like a sudden hit on the head “resulting in blinding pain unlike anything experienced before”.

“It’s this severe, severe headache that is out of the ordinary,” Dr Riina said. “People who have migraines that are quite severe say that a headache [associated with an aneurysm] was worse than any they’ve ever had.”

He suggested not to go running to the hospital if you have a headache and nausea and said people that frequently experience migraines – which can be with auras – often have routines to help relieve the headache like taking medicine or sitting in a dark, quiet room. However, if the usual routine does not help relieve the pain, it could be an aneurysm.

“It is a very unique headache and really the main symptom is feeling like this headache is like none you have ever had,” he says.

Other symptoms, according to the NHS, are a stiff neck, sickness and vomiting and pain on looking at light.

The rupturing of a brain aneurysm is very rare and only around one in 12,500 people have one In England each year.

Brain aneurysms which have not ruptured are not as rare with some experts believing it could be as high as one in 20.

Dr Riina suggested five to 10 per cent of the US population could have an aneurysm without any symptoms. Patients with an aneurysm may be referred for further treatment depending on the size, location and likelihood of it rupturing.

Exactly what causes aneurysms is unclear but risk factors include a family history of the condition, smoking and high blood pressure.

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