Earlier this week, former NBA commissioner David Stern was rushed into emergency surgery to treat a brain hemorrhage.
Federico Vinas, M.D., neurosurgeon at AdventHealth Daytona Beach says that “quickly identifying symptoms and getting immediate, expert medical care can have a significant impact on outcomes in patients with brain-related medical emergencies."
Although Stern's current condition is unknown, it's possible he could recover from the hemorrhage.
To better understand what happened, let's break down the two main types of brain conditions: a stroke and a brain aneurysm.
To help you stay prepared, we've gathered up the signs, symptoms and risk factors of each and compiled tips to help you tell the two apart. Here, we'll debunk myths and give you the facts so that you're able to spot one of these serious neurological conditions.
Myth: Strokes and Brain Aneurysms Are the Same Thing
Fact: Strokes and aneurysms aren’t the same condition, but they’re related.
Strokes and brain (cerebral) aneurysms both happen in your brain, but they’re not the same thing.
What Is a Brain Aneurysm?
A cerebral, or brain, aneurysm is a bulge in a weak spot of a brain artery wall. In a brain scan, an aneurysm can look like a berry on the stem of a plant. Most people have weak spots in the lining of their arteries and, fortunately, most aneurysms are small, cause no symptoms and do not rupture.
When aneurysms do rupture, they cause bleeding (hemorrhaging) in the brain, or a hemorrhagic stroke. In this way, aneurysms can lead to some types of strokes. Ruptured brain aneurysms can also cause brain damage and coma, and in the most unfortunate circumstances, death. About 25% of people with a ruptured brain aneurysm do not survive the first 24 hours after the event, and an additional 25% of people will pass away from complications within six months.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke is different than a brain aneurysm. Strokes can be ischemic, where an artery is blocked, preventing blood from reaching the brain. Strokes can also be hemorrhagic, which happens when a blood vessel bursts and blood gets in parts of the brain where it shouldn’t be.
Something that ruptured brain aneurysms and strokes have in common is that they are both medical emergencies. Get immediate medical help by calling 911 for symptoms related to either condition.
Myth: You Can’t Prevent a Stroke or Brain Aneurysm, They Just Happen Suddenly
Fact: Strokes and aneurysms do occur suddenly, but they share several risk factors — some of which are preventable.
Risk Factors You Can Control
You can control some of the most significant risk factors for brain aneurysms and strokes, such as these lifestyle factors:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure): Clots and bleeding in the brain can stress the walls of your blood vessels
- Weight: Excess weight strains your heart and blood vessels
- Smoking: Tobacco use damages your blood vessels and raises your risk of stroke significantly
- Drug abuse: Certain illicit drugs can raise your blood pressure significantly, which is a significant risk factor for strokes and aneurysms
Additionally, health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol can all raise your risk of a brain aneurysm or stroke. Accidents that cause head traumas and medical conditions — such as brain tumors or malformations of the arteries and veins — can also increase your risk of aneurysms and stroke.
Risk Factors Beyond Your Control
The brain aneurysm and stroke risk factors that you can’t control are:
- Age: Although they’re more common in people who are 40 or older, anyone can experience an aneurysm at any age. Aneurysms are rare among children, and most aneurysm ruptures occur between the ages of 30 and 60. Likewise, the older you are, the more likely it is that you’ll have a stroke. However, as many as one in seven strokes occur in adolescents.
- Heredity: You’re more likely to have an aneurysm or stroke if an immediate family member has had one.
Myth: You Can’t Tell the Difference Between Brain Aneurysm Symptoms and Stroke Symptoms
Fact: Brain aneurysm ruptures and strokes may share symptoms, but there are some key differences between them.
In some cases, large brain aneurysms could press on parts of the brain, mimicking stroke symptoms like speech problems, vision issues and a loss of balance.
However, unlike strokes, most brain aneurysms don’t have any symptoms — until they bleed or tear.
Symptoms of a Brain Aneurysm Rupture
When a brain aneurysm ruptures, you’ll feel a sudden, incapacitating headache, and you might vomit or lose consciousness. Other brain aneurysm symptoms include:
- A stiff neck
- An enlarged pupil in the eye
- Confusion or clumsiness
- Pain above or around the eye
- Jerking movements, like convulsions
- Weakness or numbness in the face
Like a brain aneurysm rupture, stroke symptoms can be sudden. However, unlike an aneurysm, stroke symptoms could also develop over a few hours or days. Specific stroke symptoms include:
- A transient ischemic attack, or a stroke-like attack that precedes a major stroke
- An inability to lift the arms
- Difficulty swallowing
- Drooping on one side of the face
- Numbness or paralysis on one side of the body
Most importantly, ruptured brain aneurysms and strokes are both emergencies that need immediate medical attention. Call 911 if you suspect either of these conditions in a loved one.
Compassionate Neurological Care for Your Peace of Mind
Consider AdventHealth your partner in advanced neurological care.
At AdventHealth, we offer advanced care for people with a variety of neurological and neurosurgical conditions.
If you or someone you know has a neurological concern, you deserve whole-person care from specialists who are dedicated to helping you heal in body, mind and spirit. Learn more about our programs or contact us online for more information.