Dr. Siegel's Take: Aneurysms in the News

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Published August 25, 2008

| FoxNews.com

Brain aneurysms have been in the news this past week. First there was the unfortunate sudden death of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) from a ruptured brain aneurysm at age 58. And now with the nomination for vice president of Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), the public has been reminded of his fortunate survival following the surgical clipping of two brain aneurysms back in 1988.

Aneurysms in the news present an opportunity for educating the public about these scary blood vessel bulgings in the brain.

Biden reportedly had two aneurysms, one on each side of his brain, and they were discovered when he suffered pain in his neck.

A neurological work-up revealed the aneurysms, one of which had leaked slightly. The tiniest amount of blood mixing with the brain's cerebrospinal fluid (the fluid which surrounds and cushions the brain) can be painful. Pain was an alert to Biden, and in 1988, he had the aneurysms surgically clipped before they could rupture.

Tubbs Jones wasn't nearly as fortunate, and she was found slumped over the wheel of her car, already in a coma, and was soon dead.

Biden's neckache was due to a "sentinel leak," which can be compared to a slow leak of air from a tire in an area where the wall is thinning. Whereas Jones' aneurysm reportedly burst, like a tire blowing out.

High blood pressure, smoking, and drug use, particularly cocaine can all contribute to the formation (and rupture) of aneurysms. Family history of aneurysms, congenital abnormalities in the wall of the artery, or other related medical conditions such as polycystic ovaries can all play a role in causing aneurysms.

About 6 million people in the United States have a brain aneurysm. The yearly rate of rupture is about 1 in 10,000 people. Almost half will die as a result of the rupture, and more than half who recover will have significant disability (symptoms of a stroke).

Aneurysms are most common in middle age, and women are affected more often than men. Aneurysms tend to occur at branch points of the arteries, and are much more common at the front of the brain.

Below are some frequently asked questions regarding brain aneursyms_

Q: Should I be checked for a brain aneurysm?

A:The incidence in the general population is not sufficient to recommend routine screening, but a MRI of the brain might be considered for a family history or multiple risk factors.

Q: What symptoms should I look for?

A:New onset Headache, neckache, nausea, and blurry vision can all be signs of impending bleed from an aneurysm. These symptoms are reasons to see your physician quickly.

Q:What is the treatment for a brain aneurysm?

A:Since the 1980s, many aneurysms are treated with the insertion through a micro-catheter of tiny platinum coils. These coils are useful to block the flow of blood to the aneurysm, which causes it to shrink.

Dr. Marc Siegel is an internist and associate professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a FOX News Medical Contributor and writes a health column for LA Times, where he examines TV and movies for medical accuracy. Dr. Siegel is the author of "False Alarm: the Truth About the Epidemic of Fear" and "Bird Flu: Everything You Need to Know About the Next Pandemic". Read more at www.doctorsiegel.com

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