Sir Alex Ferguson: what is a brain haemorrhage, and what is the outlook for patients?

The legendary Manchester United boss is recovering from emergency surgery following sudden bleeding in or around his brain

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Sunday 06 May 2018 12:00
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Ferguson undergoes emergency surgery on a brain haemorrhage

Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager has undergone emergency surgery following a brain haemorrhage.

In a statement, the club said that “the procedure has gone very well but he needs a period of intensive care to optimise his recovery”.

Sir Alex left Old Trafford in 2013 after 26 years, making him the club’s longest-serving manager.

In his time at the club he won 13 Premier League titles, two European Cups and five FA Cups.

The 76-year-old is now recovering from the emergency surgery at Salford Royal hospital.

Here The Independent looks at his condition.

What is a brain haemorrhage?

Put simply, it is bleeding in or around the brain. It causes swelling, and the pooled blood forms a mass known as a haematoma, increasing the pressure on the brain and reducing vital blood flow.

People who experience the condition will sometimes develop symptoms similar to a stroke, with weakness on one side of the body or a feeling of numbness.

Sometimes patients will experience a severe headache or difficulty speaking or seeing.

Sir Alex has reportedly suffered a variety known as a subarachnoid haemorrhage, which accounts for around one in every 20 strokes that take place.

What are the symptoms of this kind of haemorrhage?

Symptoms can include a sudden agonising headache – often described as similar to being hit on the head suddenly, as well as a stiff neck, feeling or being sick, sensitivity to light, blurred of double vision and loss of consciousness or convulsions.

What causes bleeding on the brain?

There are a number of reasons why brain haemorrhages can occur. According to the NHS, there are “usually no warning signs” to indicate a subarachnoid haemorrhage is about to take place, but it can be brought on by physical strain.

Luke Griggs, of the brain injury charity Headway, said the condition can sometimes happen spontaneously as a result of a ruptured aneurysm, otherwise known as a haemorrhagic stroke.

"A haemorrhage can also result from a blow to the head," he added, "often of a significant severity. But it can sometimes occur after a seemingly minor head injury.

"It can be extremely serious and require urgent medical intervention."

Other causes can include high blood pressure, leading to weakening arterial walls and causing them to rupture, or weakened blood vessels.

What does the surgery involve and how does it help?

In some cases of brain haemorrhage, an operation is needed to relieve the pressure on the brain. Draining the haematoma will reduce the size of the pooled blood, while surgeons can also repair damaged blood vessels.

There are several ways a surgeon can drain the pooled blood, including by removing a portion of the skull or drilling a small hole in it.

The decision to operate will depend on a range of factors, including the location of the haemorrhage.

A bleed on the brain can also be treated through medication to reduce the swelling.

What is the outlook for patients?

The outlook can vary depending on many factors, including where the bleed occurred and the size of it.

Mr Griggs said: "Every brain injury is unique, as is every individual's recovery."

Many patients will survive a bleed on the brain, but recovery can take many months. In some cases, extensive rehabilitation is needed to regain function, including speech therapy and physical therapy.

Some people can be left with persistent weakness or residual seizures, headaches or memory problems.

Since the news of Sir Alex’s condition occurred, tributes have flooded in from across the football world.

“I hope he is in good hands and I hope the operation is a major success,” said Everton manager Sam Allardyce, who described the news as “tragic”.

He added: “I hope he has a full recovery.”

Additional reporting by PA.

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