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Brain aneurysm: All you need to know about the condition Emilia Clarke had

Published on Jul 22, 2022 05:36 PM IST

This World Brain Day, discussions have been reinitiated about the potentially fatal brain condition, following the Game of Thrones actor’s revelation. Neurology experts weigh in on the importance of timely diagnosis and treatment.

Actor Emilia Clarke opened up about her aneurysms on BBC's Sunday Morning. (Photo: Jeff Overs/Reuters)
BySrinidhi Gopalakrishnan, New Delhi

Recently, Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke opened up about losing “quite a bit” of her brain following two emergency procedures she had to undergo on account of brain aneurysms. “The amount of my brain that is no longer usable — it’s remarkable that I am able to speak, sometimes articulately, and live my life completely normally with absolutely no repercussions. I am in the really, really small minority of people that can survive,” she had said during her appearance on BBC’s Sunday Morning. And chances of survival, experts agree, are very slim.

“In Emilia’s case, the actor was diagnosed with two aneurysms. She underwent the coiling procedure first in 2011, which is minimally invasive for one aneurysm. The other aneurysm was very small, and was left untreated to observe the growth of the same. Two years later, they found that the aneurysm has increased in size, and she went for a surgery. But during the surgery, the aneurysm got ruptured and they had to convert the surgery from minimally invasive to open surgical clipping and saved the actor’s life, which is a very rare thing to happen,” says Dr Gaurav Goel, director and head, Neuro Interventional Surgery, Institute of Neurosciences, Medanta Hospital.

What is brain aneurysm?

“A brain aneurysm means ballooning of a blood vessel in the brain. It is a serious condition, because if it ruptures, there can be bleeding in the brain, which can be life-threatening. When an aneurysm ruptures, the patient may experience very severe headache. If so, it is advised to seek medical help immediately,” informs Dr CS Narayanan VSM, HOD and consultant, Department Of Neurology, HCMCT Manipal Hospital, Dwarka.

In some cases, genetic factors may also play a role in the development of aneurysms. “First-degree relatives of the patient with ruptured aneurysm may have unruptured aneurysms in their brain. Therefore, routine screening for aneurysm is advisable for siblings and children of ruptured aneurysm patients,” says Dr Jaideep Bansal, director and HOD, Neurology, Fortis Hospital Shalimar Bagh. He adds, “Other causes of aneurysms are trauma, infection-septic emboli (mycotic aneurysm), connective tissue disorders (like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) and atherosclerosis. Hypertension, drug abuse (especially cocaine) and smoking are risk factors for the development of aneurysm.”

Symptoms of aneurysm

In case of unruptured aneurysms, a headache may occur several days or weeks before the rupture. Other symptoms, according to Dr Sachin Kandhari, senior neurosurgeon and managing director, IBS Hospital, New Delhi, are dilated pupil in one eye, blurred or doubled vision/problem with eye movements, pain above or behind the eye, back of the head or neck. For ruptured aneurysms, symptoms can include a sudden, severe headache, neck stiffness, vision problems, dizziness and difficulty in communicating, and seizures, too.

Diagnosing an aneurysm

“Only one of three patients survives and recovers from the rupture of the artery. Its symptoms get into focus only when the aneurysm ruptures and patients showcase severe symptoms like sudden severe headache, occasional headaches, vomiting and loss of consciousness. People who smoke, people with uncontrolled high blood pressure, women of 40 years of age and patients with connective tissue disorders and polycystic kidney disease are largely at a risk of developing these aneurysms. If you or someone you know is suffering from headaches, it is best to get it scanned with the help of MRI NMR angiogram to rule out an aneurysm. Because if you can diagnose this aneurysm before it gets ruptured, you can save lives at a right time,” says Dr Goel.

Timely prevention

What precisely causes aneurysms to occur is still a mystery. Also, it is unlikely that an aneurysm will go away on its own after being discovered. Nevertheless, improving our way of life can help control aneurysms and prevent them from rupturing, says Dr Kandhari. These are:

- Hypertension makes one prone to aneurysms, hence, one must keep blood pressure in check

- Quit smoking, limit caffeine and alcohol intake

-Exercise regularly, without excessive heavy lifting

- Consume a well-balanced diet that focuses on fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains etc

- Avoid consuming cocaine or other stimulant drugs

Celebs who’ve spoken about aneurysm in the past

Actor Sharon Stone had revealed in past interviews that she suffered a brain aneurysm back in 2001. The Oscar-nominated actor, who was 43 at the time, said she suffered bleeding in the brain for as many as nine days, and suffered a severe headache. She later experienced speech issues, including aphasia, as well as a speech stutter.

Singer-songwriter Neil Young was also treated for a cerebral aneurysm in 2005. According to a CNN report, Young underwent “minimally invasive neuroradiology” at a New York hospital. It is said that following the diagnosis of the potentially fatal condition, Young reportedly made major lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking marijuana.

Author tweets @srinidhi_gk

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