An aneurysm occurs when one of your brain vessels becomes engorged with blood, like a mind-erection. Only you definitely don't want this kind of boner, because if it ever ruptures, a cerebral aneurysm can lead to a stroke, loss of brain function, and even death. We wanted to know what it's like to live with something so terrifying hanging over (or in, rather) your head, so we talked to Frank Hitls, who was diagnosed with a potentially lethal brain-rager back in 2013. He told us that...
6Getting A Proper Diagnosis Takes Far Longer Than You Think
We live in an era of scientific wonder. Not only are we on the verge of instant cancer diagnoses, but we've also possibly come up with an AIDS vaccine in a pill. Surely, verifying a brain aneurysm is basically instant and involves like, some sort of nanobots? Not so much:
"My initial diagnosis was in April 2013. This was done with a standard MRI and showed an aneurysm of roughly 4 mm, and that was that, right? Not quite: the neurologist wanted a few more CT scans to see the shape of the aneurysm. This took place in July, and then she told me I actually didn't have an aneurysm." So Frank was never sick, and this whole article is nothing but a hallucination you're having after winning the Powerball Jackpot and blacking out from all the excitement, right? Wrong again!
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We'll give you a second to come down.
Frank continues: "Just to be sure, the neurologist wanted me to come in for a 3D MRI. It then confirmed that I did have an aneurysm after all."
To be double-super-duper-extra-macchiato-sure, the hospital also conducted a cerebral angiogram. "This is where they open up your femoral artery [located in your groin], slide a tube up to the neck, and release a dye for an accurate 3D model of all the vessels in the brain." This finally confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that Frank had an unruptured aneurysm in his head. And all it took was seven long months of wondering if those weird headaches were going to kill him or not.
"Whoops, looks like we left the groin tube in there. See you Monday."
5Once You Have Your Diagnosis, Doctors Are Surprisingly Unhelpful
The thing about cerebral aneurysms is that they can rupture and cause permanent brain damage and/or death, but the majority of them never do. So when a doctor diagnoses you with one, what they are really saying is: "You're probably fine, or then again, maybe you'll up and die. Shrug emoji."
"When the doc had confirmed my aneurysm," Frank told us, "I asked him what the rupture rate was. He said 1-2 percent each year. He then asked if I knew what would happen if it ruptured, and I told him: 50 percent chance of death, with another 25 percent likelihood of permanent damage ... When updating my dermatologist about the aneurysm, he said I was handling it well. I said that life is full of surprises, and that I could get hit by a bus. He said I was much more likely to die of the aneurysm. I told him his bedside manner sucked."
"Or maybe this mole will get you! Ha, kidding ... maybe ..."
"Part of me feels silly for worrying about it, but the consequences of a burst are so severe that it's terrifying. This emotional pinball gets very tiring very quickly." As do Frank's unproductive talks with his neurologist, like:
Frank: "So, I should be worried?"
Doc: "I didn't say that."
Frank: "Could it burst at any time?"
Frank: "Do we know what triggers these bursts?"
Doc: "Other than a spike in heart rate? No."
Frank: "Oh. Do they ever burst while someone's sleeping?"
Doc: "They do. But the chances are small."
Frank internally: This was productive!
"You could always lie here forever."