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Broken Blood Vessels in the Brain

by
author image Robin Tucker
Robin Tucker covers health for several online publications. She is a registered nurse with experience in labor and delivery, critical care, neurology and neurosurgery, and works in Labor and Delivery at a large, urban teaching hospital. Tucker is completing her Master of Science in nurse-midwifery at Frontier Nursing University and holds a Bachelor of Science in nursing from George Mason University.
Broken Blood Vessels in the Brain
A doctor is looking at a brain scan. Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Overview

A broken blood vessel in the brain is known as a hemorrhagic stroke. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of all first strokes are the result of a broken blood vessel in the brain, according to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association Stroke Council. Arterial bleeds generally have worse outcomes than venous bleeds, but either form can be life-threatening. With prompt treatment, it is possible to survive a hemorrhagic stroke and regain near-normal quality of life. Swift medical attention is crucial to survival.

Symptoms

A hemorrhagic stroke usually occurs without warning. Patients typically experience a sudden, intense headache. They may feel weakness or numbness on one side of the face or body. Other possible symptoms include loss of balance; loss of coordination; difficulty walking; trouble speaking or understanding speech; and vision problems.

Prompt treatment is crucial if you experience symptoms of a hemorrhagic stroke. Without a constant blood supply, brain cells quickly die. Even brain cells far from the broken blood vessel may be damaged by swelling. The brain cannot regrow dead cells, so function lost in a stroke are often never recovered. The faster a patient receives medical treatment, the more likely he is to survive and retain important brain functions.

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Risk Factors and Prevention

Because hemorrhagic stroke can lead to death or irreversible disability, prevention is vital. Many of the risk factors for hemorrhagic stroke, however, are controllable. The most important modifiable risk factor is high blood pressure, or hypertension. According to the National Stroke Association, hypertension contributes to 60 percent of all hemorrhagic strokes. Smoking, excessive alcohol use and illicit drug use also raise stroke risk. The National Institutes of Health states that people can cut their stroke risk significantly by reducing their alcohol intake, quitting smoking and controlling high cholesterol.

Some risk factors are outside the patient's direct control. Certain blood disorders, such as hemophilia and sickle-cell disease, increase the risk for a hemorrhagic stroke. People with these illnesses can still reduce their risk by carefully controlling their blood pressure and making healthy lifestyle choices.

Diagnosis

When a patient enters the hospital with symptoms suggestive of a hemorrhagic stroke, the medial personnel perform a neurological assessment. This involves having the patient perform simple tasks and asking questions to determine whether the patient is aware of her surroundings. If a stroke seems likely, doctors will order images of the brain to confirm the presence of a bleed.

Treatment

Doctors have several tools at their disposal for treating a ruptured blood vessel. What treatment tool they choose depends largely on where the bleed is located. Surgeons often will not attempt to operate on a rupture deep within brain, since the surgery may cause too much tissue damage. In such cases, treatment focuses on reducing blood pressure to limit bleeding and supporting the patient's body as it attempts to repair itself. Surgeons may insert an extraventricular drain, a temporary device that helps drain fluid to reduce pressure on the brain.

If the site of the bleeding is not deep within the brain, surgeons may recommend operating. They can sometimes clip the broken vessel, stopping blood flow to the rupture site. Alternatively, they may insert a tiny coil into the rupture site, which promotes blood clotting, helping to close the torn vessel.

Prognosis

With prompt medical attention, people who have suffered a hemorrhagic stroke may recover and return to a life with few limitations. Recovery commonly requires months of rehabilitative therapy. People who do not receive swift treatment or suffer from a severe brain bleed, however, may be left with serious, permanent loss of certain cognitive or physical functions.

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References

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