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August 29th, 2008
11:50 AM ET

Metal-head therapy aids brain aneurysms

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

If you've ever had a chance to look at my future mother-in-law's brain scan, which oddly enough I have, you can't help but notice a giant starburst in the middle. It's not radio receiver or an implanted cell phone. (That would be cool though). It's a titanium coil.

Janice's brain scan shows a starburst

Janice's brain scan shows a starburst-like image where the coil is placed

Why does Janice have a metal coil in her brain? It’s not to make her smarter. (If it were, I’d get one put in too!). The coil is the latest minimally invasive treatment for a ruptured aneurysm, and much like a cardiac stent, it is passed through veins in the groin, all the way up into the brain. Think of it like plugging a tire that has a blowout.

The truth is though, not many people have this coiling done, because not many people survive a rupture. According to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, only 50 percent of people actually make it to the hospital alive after a rupture, and 50 percent of those who do won’t live through surgery.

Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden was lucky enough to identify two aneurysms and have them removed before they ruptured. (One had started to leak a bit). Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones was not so lucky. She passed away just last week after her aneurysm burst.

These are grim statistics for a condition that most people don’t even know they have until it’s too late. So what can you do to protect yourself?

First, know your family history. My fiancée, Amanda, is seriously considering having a scan to see if there are silent aneurysms growing in her head.

Second, get the right scan. An X-ray won’t show it, nor will a CAT scan nor an MRI. One of the only scans that can detect an aneurysm is what’s called an MRA, or Magnetic Resonance Angiography. It’s similar to an MRI, but looks at the blood vessels in the brain, rather than the anatomical structure. Most insurance companies won’t cover MRAs simply because of a family history of aneurysms, but in Amanda’s case, I think it would be worth the $1,000 to know she is safe.

Third, know the symptoms. There aren’t many, but if you can recognize them quickly, it can mean the difference between life and death. Sudden, severe headache is the most common one, along with light sensitivity, nausea and unexplained vomiting. Janice told me it felt as if someone had slammed her in the back of the head with a baseball bat.

September is Brain Aneurysm Awareness Month, so make sure you pass this article along to your loved ones.

Today Janice looks at her starburst as a badge of honor, but I'm sure it's one she'd rather not have.
Do you know someone who’s had a ruptured aneurysm? What kind of symptoms did they have?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. sondra metzger

    I'm one of those lucky ones that found Dr. George Teitelbaum at USC who put coils in my brain when I was diagnosed with the aneurysm. I've had 3 of these procedures, the last one also included putting a stent in my brain. Thank God for the new & miraculous methods of today's medicine & the great doctors who perform these surgeries. Altho I had 3rd nerve palsey in my right eye, having to wear an eye patch is a lot better than the alternative......
    Right now, Dr. Teitelbaum is in the hospital at USC having undergone an open heart surgery. I wish him God's speed & love forever.......sondra metzger

    August 30, 2008 at 01:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. michael melgar, MD

    Before making a recommendation for public screening we need evidence that any such screening program will be effective. To date there is no such evidence for MRA's. It should be made clear to readers that screening programs can often have unintended consequences. False positive results can lead to further and possibly unnecessary invassive tests. False negative results can creat a false sense of security that may lead to risky behavior. And then there's the cost. We don't have unlimited resources, and every dollar spent on one medical procedure is a dollar that we don't have to spend on something else that may be proven to do more good.

    Suggesting screening tests to the public is not something to be done lightly and for the moment MRA screening is not ready for prime time.

    August 30, 2008 at 08:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Janice McAlister

    Thank you for making a stand for people with brain aneurysms. If one life is saved, it will make a difference. Consider Mr. Biden. Had his aneursyms bursted, his entire life and possibly the history of this country may be different. Almost every time I hear those two words (brain and aneurysm) it is because someone has died as a result of a ruptured one. Most would say that knowledge is power. In this case, knowledge is LIFE! I feel very fortunate that I have survived the subarachnoid and subdural hemorrhages due to my rupture. Had it not been for the Brain Aneurysm Foundation, I would have been completely lost on what to expect in the healing process. And had it not been for Dr. James Jaffe being willing to perform the coiling procedure, I would have had to endure a much longer healing process and dangerous surgical procedure. Thanks again, Matt.

    August 30, 2008 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Christine Hall

    On New Years day of 2000 I had a brain aneurysm. It felt like twenty hammers had hit me in my head. I was at New Year eve service at church. My doctor took me into a side room and and examined me and told me all my vital signs were fine. I was still hurting but I had the reassurance from my doctor I was okay. My pastor prayer for me.
    After the service in the foyer, a young brother who was a firemen came up to me and begged me to go to the hospital. I assured him that if it didn't get any better the next day, I would.

    I went home with some church friends, I vomited and took some Advil, thinking I would sleep it off. I never went to sleep. The next morning I had my friends drop me off on campus. I was a graduate student working on two master degrees at age fifty-one.

    I lived in student housing. My neighbor was a nursing major. I told her I had a headache, I couldn't shake and to check on me. She gave me a ice pack to put on my head which worsened it. The Holy Spirit let me know it was more than just a headache. I called 911. It was in January and the steps were covered with ice, so they had me walk down the steps. I started having problems breathing and kept asking for more oxygen.

    My did not rupture but had started bleeding and a little swelling. After two days, I had surgery and have a clip.

    August 30, 2008 at 20:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. huguette vigeant

    Hi! After a car accident and taken to Saint Francis Hospital I was given an MRA and found a huge Aneurysm in my brain and advise me to see a neurologist, I went to Houston Tx and saw Dr. Rose and he found that my aneurysm was so big that he had to "saw my head open" he was right and could not remove it because all the blood veins attached to it, so he tied it up and I still have it in my brain, I sometimes get dissy spells if I move my head too quickly. Should I be examine for a metal coil, I sometimes get strange head aches on the left side in the back of my head and sometimes on the right side. Thank you so much, Huguette

    August 31, 2008 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Melissa

    My father had a brain aneurysm in 1981. He presented to the emergency department with onset of severe headache and neck pain. The resident diagnosed muscle spasms of the neck and sent him home on muscle relaxants.

    I still remember him wearing a heating pad on his head because of the severe pain. My mother insisted he go back to the hospital because she knew something was wrong.

    She took him back to the emergency department and further tests revealed an aneurysm. It was leaking, but had not ruptured. He was in the ICU for a week before the surgery.

    Lucky for him he was able to get it clipped and had no residual side effects. He got 25 more years of life.

    September 2, 2008 at 14:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Janet Kapraly

    My son (now 17) was diagnosed at age 4 with numerous AVM's in the dura of the brain. He has had 14 surgeries to place approximately 200 coils in his brain. He has also had 3 craniotomies. He has been symtom free for about 5 years now. Thank God!!!

    September 8, 2008 at 10:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • megpie

      The only time I've ever heard of a child that young having aneurysms was if they were also diagnosed with primordial dwarfism, is that the case? I am a survivor of a subarachnoid hemorrhage and I have children that I worry about. Should I worry sooner?

      December 4, 2013 at 23:36 | Report abuse |
  8. molly

    My mother died of a burst aneurysm at the age of 49. She was a life-long chain smoker, which the doctors believe may have contributed to her condition.

    Unfortunately, rather than go the ER when her headache got severe, she went to the chiroprator, who "adjusted" her and sent her home, even though she had the classic symptoms of a leaking aneurysm. By the time my father called 911 and got her to the emergency room, it was too late.

    September 9, 2008 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Sheryl

    My Aunt survived an aneurysm–her symptoms are as others have described–the worst headache ever, severe sensitivity to sound and nausea. What she kept saying to the Emergency docs was that she could hear 'dripping' in her head...the seepage was apparently leaking in the area of her inner ear...

    She was saved, and we're so glad that she still looks GREAT in that ultra short hairdo–a reminder of her hospital haircut!

    September 15, 2008 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ana Henriques MSN FNP

    As a stroke program coordinator I'd like to stress that the onset
    of sudden severe headache with no known cause is a hallmark sign for a bleed in the brain.A bleed in the brain is a stroke and not just a clot blocking a blood vessel.
    There are other stroke signs and symptoms that the public needs to be aware. These include: Sudden severe headache with no known cause. Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes
    Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg especially on one side of the body. Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding. Sudden trouble walking,dizziness,loss of balance or coordination. "Time is brain" call 911 immediately to get the appropriate care at a hospital or stroke center.

    September 18, 2008 at 12:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Jan

    2 1/2 years ago I began experiencing headaches (I rarely get them) and they became more severe. Went to the doctor; had a CAT, saw an ENT, then a neurologist and had an MRI. The neurologist wanted to see me in 2 weeks if the headaches continued. Did not make it back as my aneurysm ruptured.
    I am one of the lucky ones. The great EMTs; Life Flight and the incredible team at UPMC Presby in Pittsburgh saved my life. On the outside I look as I used to but not inside. I have damage to optic nerve; take Keppra 2x a day for siezures and am very slow. It has totally changed my life. I am adapting and have had wonderful support.
    I now treasure every day. Even my nuerosurgeons call me their miracle! I received a second chance! See your Doctors ASAP if you have unusual and persistant symptoms.

    December 29, 2008 at 16:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Maria

    I also was blessed to have been referred to Dr. Teitelbaum after I was taken to the ER with a partial ruptured cerebral aneurysm. I was told at the hospital that I had an inoperable aneurysm because it was located at the brain stem in a cavernous cave. They soon reassured me that there was a relatively new procedure (this was in 1998) called angio-coil emboliization and a Dr. at USC University hospital who performed this procedure. The hospital I was at was only 15 miles away, it was SUCH a blessing. I was only 24 therefore before this experience I did believe I was invincible. 3 years ago they found a second aneurysm that was not there before....very rare but somehow I am developing new aneurysms. Dr. Gianotta at USC University Hospital clipped the new one in 2007, although recovery was more difficult, I did not suffer any lasting side effects. USC Neurosurgery is an amazing collaboration of some of the best neuro surgeons in the world.....I will always be grateful for the life that I have.....by the grace of God and the skillfull minds/hands of both those doctors.

    January 15, 2009 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Louise

    My mum had an aneurysm that raptured last summer. She was just going into the kitchen during dinner to get sauce. When she didn't come back for like ten minutes dad went looking for her and found her lying on a (very uncomfortable) sofa in the living room. She said she had a severe head ache and needed to sleep it off.Dad realized immediately that it wasn't a normal head ache and called an ambulance. Before it arrived she'd vomited a lot. She was able to walk to the ambulance and was driven to the nearest hospital were everything seemed fine until she started blubbering about a car accident that had never happened. She was hastily driven down to a bigger hospital, had three surgeries and a couple of infections during the three weeks she was at the emergency ward, until transferred to a hospital in Stockholm were we live. She still goes to day care but apart from having short term memory issues she is all fine. Close quarter!

    February 12, 2010 at 05:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Debbie

    Mine was a little different in that I was not hit with a severe head ach all at once. I actually had a head ach that lasted a week. I suffer from migraine so, although I was uncomfortable, I was not concerned.
    On the day mine burst, I had been at work all day and the head ach kept getting worse. By the time I got home it was pretty bad. I tried to lay down but that made it worse. Then I felt it pop and I knew something was really wrong. My beathing became labored and I was in a lot of pain.
    My husband drove me to the hospital where they did a scan and saw that there was blood surrounding the brain. I was transfered to a hospital that specialized in aneurysms. A coiling was performed that night and I spent the next 16 days in intensive care.
    I returned to work after 12 weeks and feel pretty good. I go for my six month check up in a few weeks. I realize how luck I am and look at life a little differently. I've learned to slow down and not to take my family for granted. I'm very lucky to come out of it being back to normal with no disabilites. I tell everyone I am a true miricale. I couldn't spell before the aneursym and still can't spell. I'm back to normal!

    April 15, 2010 at 22:37 | Report abuse | Reply

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