Diseases & Symptoms

IF you think something is wrong, go see your doctor. Explain that you are worried it is a brain tumor. Keep in mind that brain tumors are relatively rare compared to most other disorders, so the primary care doctor is not usually going to be thinking it is a brain tumor. They first think of more common causes of the symptoms. Sixty-four percent of the time, the doctor thought it was NOT a brain tumor when respondents first went to the doctor. Chronic headaches are likely to be related to other, less serious conditions like migraines, allergies, or common vision problems that require glasses or contact lenses. More than half of the people reported that they had the symptoms for more than a month before the correct diagnosis of brain tumor was made. With the malignant brain tumors, a delay of a month in starting treatment can make a major impact on the outcome.

Common brain tumor symptoms tend to be non-specific, mimicking other illnesses. Brain tumor symptoms vary greatly from person to person because of two factors: where the tumor is located and its size. The size of a tumor, however, does not affect severity of symptoms. A very small tumor can cause severe symptoms. It is all relative to what part of the brain is affected.


Up to half of people with brain tumors suffer from headaches, but they are much more likely to be related to another benign condition. Headaches can be a symptom of brain tumors, and those that are truly tumor-related have distinct characteristics that separate them from other conditions that cause headaches.

The classic characteristic of a brain tumor-related headache is a morning headache. The pain can be described as dull, aching, or throbbing. Over time, the headaches may become more frequent, increasing in severity, and eventually be a constant occurrence that is not easily relieved. Changes in body position can make them worse, especially when lying down. They can also be worsened by coughing or sneezing. Each person may experience different types of headaches that may or may not reflect these common traits.

Your doctor will ask you several questions about your headaches. Here are some common ones and what your answers may reveal :

Do you normally have headaches or previously suffered from headaches?
People who have previously suffered from headaches or who are allergy or migraine sufferers generally don’t raise concern for doctors. It is those who don’t commonly get headaches and have had recent and new headaches that make doctors suspect something more serious. People who have previously suffered from headaches and whose headaches have changed in intensity, location, or caused other symptoms are also a concern to doctors. A change in headache pattern can be a symptom of a brain tumor.

What medicines you are using to relieve the headaches and are they working?
Typically, headaches related to brain tumors are not relieved by medication. When common pain relievers are ineffective, it raises a red flag to a doctor that something more serious may be present.

Do your headaches get better or worse with movement?
If your headaches worsen or are triggered by bending over, sneezing, or coughing, it is important to let your doctor know. Brain tumor-related headaches are often worsened by these movements.

Are you experiencing any nausea or vomiting?
Nausea and vomiting along with a headache can be a symptom of a brain tumor. Nausea and vomiting without a headache, often with change of movement, can also be a symptom, but this is far more likely related to something other than a brain tumor.

Vomiting : Vomiting, especially in the morning and without nausea, can be a symptom of a brain tumor.

Personality or Mood Changes
Adults with brain tumors sometimes experience personality changes that are frustrating and can definitely interrupt daily living activities. Laughing at things that are not humorous, sudden increased interest in sex, temper tantrums, paranoia, and social decline, are just a few of the possible personality changes that one may experience if they have a brain tumor. In contrast, personality changes can also mean an exaggeration of normal characteristics.

Cognitive Decline
Slower processing speed of the brain can be a symptom of a brain tumor. If you find it takes you longer to complete tasks than it usually does, report it to your doctor. This isn’t related to fatigue or lack of motivation. These are tasks that require thinking like simple math, writing sentences, setting up a chess board, or following a recipe. People with brain tumors may find it takes great effort to complete the most basic task. Memory loss and difficulty concentrating can be typical with some brain tumors, as well.

Vision and Hearing Problems
Some brain tumors can cause visual or hearing disturbances that are difficult to ignore. Problems with vision can include seeing flashing lights, blurring, and floaters. Hearing disturbances can include one sided hearing loss and ringing in the ears.

A brain aneurysm is a bulge or ballooning in a blood vessel in the brain. It often looks like a berry hanging on a stem.

A brain aneurysm can leak or rupture, causing bleeding into the brain (hemorrhagic stroke). Most often a ruptured brain aneurysm occurs in the space between the brain and the thin tissues covering the brain. This type of hemorrhagic stroke is called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. A ruptured aneurysm quickly becomes life-threatening and requires prompt medical treatment.

Most brain aneurysms, however, don’t rupture, create health problems or cause symptoms. Such aneurysms are often detected during tests for other conditions. Treatment for an unruptured brain aneurysm may be appropriate in some cases and may prevent a rupture in the future.


Ruptured aneurysm
A sudden, severe headache is the key symptom of a ruptured aneurysm. This headache is often described as the “worst headache” ever experienced. Common signs and symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm include :

  • Sudden, extremely severe headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stiff neck
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Seizure
  • A drooping eyelid
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion

‘Leaking’ aneurysm
In some cases, an aneurysm may leak a slight amount of blood. This leaking, or sentinel bleed, is likely to cause only a sudden, extremely severe headache. This bleeding is almost always followed by a more severe rupture.

Unruptured aneurysm
An unruptured brain aneurysm may produce no symptoms, particularly if it’s small. However, a large unruptured aneurysm may press on brain tissues and nerves, possibly causing :

  • Pain above and behind an eye
  • A dilated pupil
  • Change in vision or double vision
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis of one side of the face
  • A drooping eyelid

When to see a doctor
A ruptured aneurysm is a medical emergency. In about 50 percent of cases, ruptured brain aneurysms are fatal. Seek immediate medical attention if you develop a sudden, extremely severe headache.

If you’re with someone who complains of a sudden, severe headache or who loses consciousness or has a seizure, call 911 or your local emergency number.

Brain aneurysms develop as a result of thinning and degeneration artery walls. Aneurysms often form at forks or branches in arteries because those sections of the vessel are weaker. Although aneurysms can appear anywhere in the brain, they are most common in arteries at the base of the brain.

Risk factors
A number of factors can contribute to weakness in an artery wall and increase the risk of a brain aneurysm. These contributing factors include :

  • Older age
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis)
  • Family history of brain aneurysm, particularly a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling
  • Drug abuse, particularly the use of cocaine
  • Head injury
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Certain blood infections
  • Lower estrogen levels after menopause

Some disorders present at birth are known to increase the risk of brain aneurysms. These include

  • Inherited connective tissue disorders, such as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, that weaken blood vessels
  • Polycystic kidney disease, an inherited disorder, that results in fluid-filled sacs in the kidneys and usually increases blood pressure
  • Abnormally narrow aorta (coarctation of the aorta), the blood vessel that delivers oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body
  • Cerebral arteriovenous malformation (brain AVM), an abnormal connection between arteries and veins in the brain that interrupts the normal flow of blood between them


When a brain aneurysm ruptures, the bleeding usually lasts only a few seconds. The blood can cause direct damage to surrounding cells, and the bleeding can damage or kill other cells. It also increases pressure inside the skull. If the pressure becomes too elevated, the blood and oxygen supply to the brain may be disrupted to the point that loss of consciousness or even death may occur.

Complications that can develop after the rupture of an aneurysm include :

Re-bleeding –
An aneurysm that has ruptured or leaked is at risk of bleeding again. Re-bleeding can cause further damage to brain cells.

Vasospasm –
After a brain aneurysm ruptures, blood vessels in your brain may widen and narrow erratically (vasospasm). This condition can limit blood flow to brain cells (ischemic stroke) and cause additional cell damage and loss.

Hydrocephalus –
When an aneurysm rupture results in bleeding in the space between the brain and surrounding tissue (subarachnoid hemorrhage) – most often the case – the blood can block circulation of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord (cerebrospinal fluid). This condition can result in hydrocephalus, an excess of cerebrospinal fluid that increases pressure on the brain and can damage tissues.

Hyponatremia –
Subarachnoid hemorrhage from a ruptured brain aneurysm can disrupt the balance of sodium in the blood supply. This may occur from damage to the hypothalamus, an area near the base of the brain. A drop in blood sodium levels (hyponatremia) can cause swelling of brain cells and permanent damage.

Preparing for your appointment

Brain aneurysms are most often detected after they have ruptured, and are, therefore, medical emergencies. However, a brain aneurysm may be detected by chance when you’ve undergone head-imaging tests for another condition.

If such test results indicate you have a brain aneurysm, you’ll need to discuss the results with a specialist in brain and nervous system disorders (neurologist or neurosurgeon).

To make the best use of your time, you may want to prepare a list of questions

  • What do you know about the size and location of the aneurysm?
  • Do the imaging test results provide evidence of how likely it is to rupture?
  • What treatment do you recommend at this time?
  • If we wait, how often will I need to have follow-up tests?
  • What steps can I take to lower the risk of a ruptured aneurysm?

Your neurologist or neurosurgeon may ask you the following questions to help determine the best course of action

  • Do you smoke?
  • How much do you drink?
  • Do you use recreational drugs?
  • Are you being treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol or other conditions that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease?
  • Do you take your medications as prescribed by your doctor?
  • Is there a history of brain aneurysms in your family?

Tests and diagnosis

If you have a sudden, severe headache or other symptoms possibly related to a ruptured aneurysm, you will undergo a test or series of tests to determine if you have had bleeding into the space between your brain and surrounding tissues (subarachnoid hemorrhage) or another type of stroke. If bleeding has occurred, then your emergency care team will determine if a ruptured aneurysm is the cause.

If you have symptoms of an unruptured brain aneurysm – such as pain behind the eye, changes in vision, and paralysis on one side of the face – you will likely undergo the same tests.

Diagnostic tests include

Computerized tomography (CT) –
A CT scan, a specialized X-ray exam, is usually the first test used to determine if you have bleeding in the brain. The test produces images that are two-dimensional “slices” of the brain. With this test, you may also receive an injection of a dye that makes it easier to observe blood flow in the brain and may indicate the site of a ruptured aneurysm. This variation of the test is called CT angiography.

Cerebrospinal fluid test –
If you’ve had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, there will mostly likely be red blood cells in the fluid surrounding your brain and spine (cerebrospinal fluid). Your doctor will order a test of the cerebrospinal fluid if you have symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm but a CT scan hasn’t shown evidence of bleeding. The procedure to draw cerebrospinal fluid from your spine with a needle is called a lumbar puncture or spinal tap.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) –
An MRI uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the brain, either two-dimensional slices or three-dimensional images. The use of a dye, MRI angiography, can enhance images of blood vessels and the site of a ruptured aneurysm. This imaging test may provide a clearer picture than a CT scan.

Cerebral angiogram, or cerebral arteriogram –
During this procedure, your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube (catheter) into a large artery – usually in your groin – and threads it past your heart to the arteries in your brain. A special dye injected into the catheter travels to arteries throughout your brain. A series of X-ray images can then reveal details about the conditions of your arteries and the site of a ruptured aneurysm. This test is more invasive than others and is usually used when other diagnostic tests don’t provide enough information.

Screening for brain aneurysms

The use of imaging tests to screen for unruptured brain aneurysms is generally not recommended. However, you may want to discuss with your doctor the potential benefit of a screening test if you have :

  • A parent or sibling who has had a ruptured brain aneurysm, particularly if you have two such first-degree family members with
    brain aneurysms
  • A congenital disorder that increases your risk of a brain aneurysm


There are two common treatment options for a ruptured brain aneurysm.

Surgical clipping 
is a procedure to close off an aneurysm. The neurosurgeon removes a section of your skull to access the aneurysm and locates the blood vessel that feeds the aneurysm. Then he or she places a tiny metal clip on the neck of the aneurysm to stop blood flow to it.

Endovascular coiling
is a less invasive procedure than surgical clipping. The surgeon inserts a hollow plastic tube (catheter) into an artery, usually in your groin, and threads it through your body to the aneurysm. He or she then uses a guide wire to push a soft platinum wire through the catheter and into the aneurysm. The wire coils up inside the aneurysm, disrupts the blood flow and causes blood to clot. This clotting essentially seals off the aneurysm from the artery.

Both procedures pose risks, particularly bleeding in the brain or loss of blood flow to the brain. The endovascular coil is less invasive and may be initially safer, but it also has a higher risk of subsequent re-bleeding, and additional procedures may be necessary. Your neurosurgeon will make a recommendation based on the size of the brain aneurysm, your ability to undergo surgery and other factors.

Treating unruptured brain aneurysms

Surgical clipping or endovascular coiling can be used to seal off an unruptured brain aneurysm and help prevent a future rupture. However, the known risks of the procedures may outweigh the potential benefit.

A neurologist and a neurosurgeon can help you determine whether the treatment is appropriate for you. Factors that they would consider in making a recommendation include :

  • The size and location of the aneurysm
  • Your age and general health
  • Family history of ruptured aneurysms
  • Congenital conditions that increase the risk of a ruptured aneurysm

If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about medication to manage the condition. If you have a brain aneurysm, proper control of blood pressure may lower the risk of rupture.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and food. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.

A stroke is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications.

The good news is that strokes can be treated and prevented, and many fewer Americans now die of stroke than was the case even 15 years ago. Better control of major stroke risk factors – high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol – is likely responsible for the decline.


Watch for these signs and symptoms if you think you or someone else may be having a stroke. Note when signs and symptoms begin, because the length of time they have been present may guide treatment decisions.

  • Trouble with walking. You may stumble or experience sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination.
  • Trouble with speaking and understanding. You may experience confusion. You may slur your words or be unable to find the right
    words to explain what is happening to you (aphasia). Try to repeat a simple sentence. If you can’t, you may be having a stroke.
  • Paralysis or numbness on one side of your body or face. You may develop sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of
    your body. Try to raise both your arms over your head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, you may be having a stroke.
    Similarly, one side of your mouth may droop when you try to smile.
  • Trouble with seeing in one or both eyes. You may suddenly have blurred or blackened vision, or you may see double.
  • Headache. A sudden, severe “bolt out of the blue” headache, which may be accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or altered
    consciousness, may indicate you’re having a stroke.

When to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any signs or symptoms of a stroke, even if they seem to fluctuate or disappear. Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Every minute counts. Don’t wait to see if symptoms go away. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the potential for brain damage and disability. To maximize the effectiveness of evaluation and treatment, it’s best that you get to the emergency room within 60 minutes of your first symptoms.

If you’re with someone you suspect is having a stroke, watch the person carefully while waiting for emergency assistance. You may need to :

  • Begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if the person stops breathing
  • Turn the person’s head to the side if vomiting occurs, which can prevent choking
  • Keep the person from eating or drinking

A stroke disrupts the flow of blood through your brain and damages brain tissue. There are two chief types of stroke. The most common type – ischemic stroke – results from blockage in an artery. The other type – hemorrhagic stroke – occurs when a blood vessel leaks or bursts. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) – sometimes called a ministroke – temporarily disrupts blood flow through your brain.

Ischemic stroke

Almost 90 percent of strokes are ischemic strokes. They occur when the arteries to your brain are narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow (ischemia). Lack of blood flow deprives your brain cells of oxygen and nutrients, and cells may begin to die within minutes. The most common ischemic strokes are :

  • Thrombotic stroke –
    This type of stroke occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in one of the arteries that supply blood to your brain. A clot usually forms in areas damaged by atherosclerosis – a disease in which the arteries are clogged by fatty deposits (plaques). This process can occur within one of the two carotid (kuh-ROT-id) arteries of your neck that carry blood to your brain, as well as in other arteries of the neck or brain.
  • Embolic stroke –
    An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot or other debris forms in a blood vessel away from your brain – commonly in your heart – and is swept through your bloodstream to lodge in narrower brain arteries. This type of blood clot is called an embolus. It’s often caused by irregular beating in the heart’s two upper chambers (atrial fibrillation). This abnormal heart rhythm can lead to pooling of blood in the heart and the formation of blood clots that travel elsewhere in the body.

Hemorrhagic stroke

Hemorrhage is the medical term for bleeding. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures. Brain hemorrhages can result from a number of conditions that affect your blood vessels, including uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension) and weak spots in your blood vessel walls (aneurysms). A less common cause of hemorrhage is the rupture of an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) – an abnormal tangle of thin-walled blood vessels, present at birth. There are two types of hemorrhagic stroke :

  • Intracerebral hemorrhage –
    In this type of stroke, a blood vessel in the brain bursts and spills into the surrounding brain tissue, damaging cells. Brain cells beyond the leak are deprived of blood and are also damaged. High blood pressure is the most common cause of this type of hemorrhagic stroke. Over time, high blood pressure can cause small arteries inside your brain to become brittle and susceptible to cracking and rupture.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage –
    In this type of stroke, bleeding starts in an artery on or near the surface of the brain and spills into the space between the surface of your brain and your skull. This bleeding is often signaled by a sudden, severe “thunderclap” headache. This type of stroke is commonly caused by the rupture of an aneurysm, which can develop with age or be present from birth. After the hemorrhage, the blood vessels in your brain may widen and narrow erratically (vasospasm), causing brain cell damage by further limiting blood flow to parts of your brain.

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) – sometimes called a ministroke – is a brief episode of symptoms similar to those you’d have in a stroke. The cause of a transient ischemic attack is a temporary decrease in blood supply to part of your brain. Many TIAs last less than five minutes.

Like an ischemic stroke, a TIA occurs when a clot or debris blocks blood flow to part of your brain. But unlike a stroke, which involves a more prolonged lack of blood supply and causes permanent tissue damage, a TIA doesn’t leave lasting effects because the blockage is temporary.

Seek emergency care even if your symptoms seem to clear up. If you’ve had a TIA, it means there’s likely a partially blocked or narrowed artery leading to your brain, putting you at a greater risk of a full-blown stroke that could cause permanent damage later. And it’s not possible to tell if you’re having a stroke or a TIA based only on your symptoms. Up to half of those whose symptoms appear to go away are actually having a stroke that’s causing brain damage.

Risk factors
Many factors can increase your risk of a stroke. A number of these factors can also increase your chances of having a heart attack. Stroke risk factors include :

  • Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack or TIA.
  • Being age 55 or older.
  • High blood pressure – risk of stroke begins to increase at blood pressure readings higher than 115/75 millimeters of mercury (mm
    Hg). Your doctor will help you decide on a target blood pressure based on your age, whether you have diabetes and other factors.
  • High cholesterol – a total cholesterol level above 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
  • Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight (body mass index of 25 to 29) or obese (body mass index of 30 or higher)
  • Physical inactivity
  • Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, a heart defect, heart infection, or abnormal heart rhythm
  • Use of birth control pills or hormone therapies that include estrogen
  • Heavy or binge drinking
  • Use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines

Because the risk of stroke increases with age, and women tend to live longer than men, more women than men have strokes and die of them each year. Blacks are more likely to have strokes than are people of other races.


A stroke can sometimes cause temporary or permanent disabilities, depending on how long the brain suffers a lack of blood flow and which part was affected. Complications may include :

  • Paralysis or loss of muscle movement. Sometimes a lack of blood flow to the brain can cause a person to become paralyzed on
    one side of the body, or lose control of certain muscles, such as those on one side of the face. With physical therapy, you may see
    improvement in muscle movement or paralysis.
  • Difficulty talking or swallowing. A stroke may cause a person to have less control over the way the muscles in the mouth and throat
    move, making it difficult to talk, swallow or eat. A person may also have a hard time speaking because a stroke has caused
    aphasia, a condition in which a person has difficulty expressing thoughts through language. Therapy with a speech and language
    pathologist may improve this disability.
  • Memory loss or trouble with understanding. It’s common that people who’ve had a stroke experience some memory loss. Others
    may develop difficulty making judgments, reasoning and understanding concepts. These complications may improve with
    rehabilitation therapies.
  • Pain. Some people who have a stroke may have pain, numbness or other strange sensations in parts of their bodies affected by
    stroke. For example, if a stroke causes you to lose feeling in your left arm, you may develop an uncomfortable tingling sensation in
    that arm. You may also be sensitive to temperature changes, especially extreme cold. This is called central stroke pain or central
    pain syndrome (CPS). This complication generally develops several weeks after a stroke, and it may improve as more time
    passes. But because the pain is caused by a problem in the brain instead of a physical injury, there are few medications to treat
  • Changes in behavior and self-care. People who have a stroke may become more withdrawn and less social or more impulsive.
    They may lose the ability to care for themselves and may need a caretaker to help them with their grooming needs and daily

As with any brain injury, the success of treating these complications will vary from person to person.

Preparing for your appointment

A stroke in progress is usually diagnosed in a hospital emergency room. If you’re having a stroke, your care will focus on minimizing brain damage and helping you recover and avoid another stroke in the future. If you haven’t yet had a stroke but are worried about your future risk, you can discuss your concerns with your doctor at your next scheduled appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

In the emergency room, you may see an emergency medicine specialist or a neurologist as well as nurses and medical technicians. Your emergency team’s first priority will be to stabilize your symptoms and overall medical condition. Then your care will focus on determining if you are having a stroke and, if so, which type. There are different treatments for ischemic strokes caused by artery blockage and hemorrhagic strokes caused by blood vessel rupture.

If you are seeking your doctor’s advice during a scheduled appointment, your doctor will evaluate your risk factors for stroke and heart disease. Your discussion will focus on quitting smoking if you are a smoker and on lifestyle strategies or medications to control high blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors. In some cases, your doctor may recommend certain tests and procedures to better understand your risk or to treat underlying conditions that raise risk.

Tests and diagnosis

To determine the best treatment for your stroke, your emergency team must figure out what type of stroke you’re having and what parts of your brain it’s affecting. Other possible causes of your symptoms, such as a brain tumor or a drug reaction, also need to be ruled out. Your doctor may also use some of these tests to determine your risk of stroke.

  • Physical examination. Your doctor will ask you or a family member what symptoms you’ve been having, when they started, and
    what you were doing when they began, and then will evaluate whether these symptoms are still present. The doctor will want to
    know what medications you take, and whether you have experienced any head injury. The doctor will also ask about your
    personal and family history of heart disease, TIA or stroke. Your doctor will check your blood pressure and use a stethoscope to
    listen to your heart and to listen for a whooshing sound (bruit) over your carotid (neck) arteries, which may indicate atherosclerosis.
    Your doctor may also use an ophthalmoscope to check for signs of tiny cholesterol crystals or clots in the blood vessels at the
    back of your eyes.
  • Blood tests. Various blood tests give your care team such important information as how fast your blood clots and whether your
    blood sugar is abnormally high or low, whether critical blood chemicals are out of balance, or whether you may have an infection.
    Your blood’s clotting time and levels of sugar and key chemicals must be managed as part of your stroke care. Infections must also
    be treated.
  • Computerized tomography (CT). Brain imaging plays a key role in determining if you are having a stroke and what type.
    Computerized tomography angiography (CTA) is a specialized CT exam in which a dye is injected into your vein and X-ray beams
    create a 3-D image of the blood vessels in your neck and brain. Doctors use CTA to look for aneurysms or arteriovenous
    malformations and to evaluate arteries for narrowing. CT scanning, which is done without dye, can provide images of your brain
    and show hemorrhages, but provides less detailed information about the blood vessels.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In this type of imaging, a strong magnetic field and radio waves generate a 3-D view of your
    brain. An MRI can detect brain tissue damaged by an ischemic stroke. Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) uses a magnetic
    field, radio waves and a dye injected into your veins to evaluate arteries in your neck and brain.
  • Carotid ultrasound. This procedure can show narrowing or clotting in your carotid arteries. A wand-like device (transducer)
    painlessly sends high-frequency sound waves into your neck. The sound waves pass through tissue and then return, creating on-
    screen images.
  • Arteriography. This procedure gives a view of arteries in your brain not normally seen in X-rays. Your doctor inserts a thin, flexible
    tube (catheter) through a small incision, usually in your groin. The catheter is manipulated through your major arteries and into
    your carotid or vertebral artery. Then your doctor injects a dye through the catheter to provide X-ray images of your arteries.
  • Echocardiography. This ultrasound technology creates images of your heart, enabling your doctor to see if a clot (embolus) from
    your heart has traveled to your brain and caused your stroke. Your doctor may need to use transesophageal echocardiography
    (TEE) to see your heart clearly. During this procedure, you swallow a flexible probe with a transducer built into it. From there, the
    probe travels to your esophagus – the tube that connects the back of your mouth to your stomach. Because your esophagus is
    directly behind your heart, very clear, detailed ultrasound images can be created, allowing a better view of blood clots that might
    not be seen clearly in a traditional echocardiography exam.

Treatments and drugs
Emergency treatment for stroke depends on whether you are having an ischemic stroke blocking an artery – the most common kind – or a hemorrhagic stroke involving bleeding into the brain.

Ischemic stroke – To treat an ischemic stroke, doctors must quickly restore blood flow to your brain.

Emergency treatment with medications

Therapy with clot-busting drugs must start within 4.5 hours – and the sooner, the better. Quick treatment not only improves your chances of survival, but may also reduce the complications from your stroke. You may be given :

Aspirin –
Aspirin is the best-proven immediate treatment after an ischemic stroke to reduce the likelihood of having another stroke. In the emergency room, it’s likely you’ll be given a dose of aspirin. The dose may vary, but if you already take a daily aspirin for its blood-thinning effect, you may want to make a note of that on an emergency medical card so that the doctors will know if you’ve already had some aspirin.

Other blood-thinning drugs, such as warfarin (Coumadin), heparin and clopidogrel (Plavix) also may be given, but they aren’t used as commonly as aspirin for emergency treatment.

Intravenous injection of tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) –
Some people who are having an ischemic stroke can benefit from an injection of tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), usually given through a vein in the arm. TPA is a potent clot-busting drug that helps some people who have had a stroke recover more fully. However, intravenous TPA can be given only within a 4.5-hour window of the stroke occurring. TPA involves certain risks that your doctors will consider in assessing whether it’s the right treatment for you. TPA cannot be given to people who are having a hemorrhagic stroke.

Emergency procedures

Doctors sometimes treat ischemic strokes with procedures that must be performed as soon as possible.

  • TPA delivered directly to the brain. Doctors may thread a catheter through an artery in your groin up to your brain, and then
    release TPA directly into the area where the stroke is under way. The time window for this treatment is somewhat longer than for
    intravenous TPA but still limited.
  • Mechanical clot removal. Doctors may also use a catheter to maneuver a tiny device into your brain to physically grab and remove
    the clot.

Other procedures

To decrease your risk of having another stroke or TIA, your doctor may recommend a procedure to open up an artery that’s moderately to severely narrowed by plaques. Doctors also sometimes recommend these procedures to prevent a stroke. Options may include :

Carotid endarterectomy –
In this procedure, a surgeon removes plaques blocking the carotid arteries that run up both sides of your neck to your brain. The blocked artery is opened, the plaques are removed and your surgeon closes the artery. The procedure may reduce your risk of ischemic stroke. However, in addition to the usual risks associated with any surgery, a carotid endarterectomy itself can also trigger a stroke or heart attack by releasing a blood clot or fatty debris. Surgeons attempt to reduce this risk by placing filters (distal protection devices) at strategic points in your bloodstream to “catch” any material that may break free during the procedure.

Intravenous & Angioplasty and stents –
Angioplasty is another technique that can widen the inside of a plaque-coated artery leading to your brain, usually the carotid artery. In this procedure, a balloon-tipped catheter is maneuvered into the obstructed area of your artery. The balloon is inflated, compressing the plaques against your artery walls. A metallic mesh tube (stent) is usually left in the artery to prevent recurrent narrowing. Inserting a stent in a brain artery (intracranial stenting) is similar to stenting the carotid arteries. Using a small incision in the groin, doctors thread a catheter through the arteries and into the brain. Sometimes they use angioplasty to widen the affected area first; in other cases, angioplasty is not used before stent placement.

Hemorrhagic stroke – Emergency treatment of hemorrhagic stroke focuses on controlling bleeding and reducing pressure in your brain. Surgery may also be used to help control future risk.

Emergency measures

If you take warfarin (Coumadin) or antiplatelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix) to prevent blood clots, you may be given drugs or transfusions of blood products to counteract their effects. You may also be given drugs to lower your blood pressure, prevent seizures or reduce your brain’s reaction to the bleeding (vasospasm). People having a hemorrhagic stroke can’t be given clot-busters such as aspirin and TPA because these drugs may worsen bleeding.

Once the bleeding in your brain stops, treatment usually involves bed rest and supportive medical care while your body absorbs the blood. Healing is similar to what happens while a bad bruise goes away. If the area of bleeding is large, surgery may be used in certain cases to remove the blood and relieve pressure on the brain.

Surgical blood vessel repair

Surgery may be used to repair certain blood vessel abnormalities associated with hemorrhagic strokes. Your doctor may recommend one of these procedures after a stroke or if you’re at high risk of spontaneous aneurysm or arteriovenous malformation (AVM) rupture:

Once the bleeding in your brain stops, treatment usually involves bed rest and supportive medical care while your body absorbs the blood. Healing is similar to what happens while a bad bruise goes away. If the area of bleeding is large, surgery may be used in certain cases to remove the blood and relieve pressure on the brain.

  • Aneurysm clipping –A tiny clamp is placed at the base of the aneurysm, isolating it from the circulation of the artery to which it’s attached. This can keep the aneurysm from bursting, or it can prevent re-bleeding of an aneurysm that has recently hemorrhaged. The clip will stay in place permanently.
  • Coiling (aneurysm embolization) –This procedure offers an alternative to clipping for certain aneurysms. Surgeons use a catheter to maneuver a tiny coil into the aneurysm. The coil provides a scaffolding where a blood clot can form and seal off the aneurysm from connecting arteries.
  • Surgical AVM removal – It’s not always possible to remove an AVM if it’s too large or if it’s located deep within the brain. Surgical removal of a smaller AVM from a more accessible portion of the brain, though, can eliminate the risk of rupture, lowering the overall risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

Stroke recovery and rehabilitation

Following emergency treatment, stroke care focuses on helping you regain your strength, recover as much function as possible and return to independent living. The impact of your stroke depends on the area of the brain involved and the amount of tissue damaged. Harm to the right side of your brain may affect movement and sensation on the left side of your body. Damage to brain tissue on the left side may affect movement on the right side; this damage may also cause speech and language disorders. In addition, if you’ve had a stroke, you may have problems with breathing, swallowing, balancing and hearing. You may also experience loss of vision and loss of bladder or bowel function.

Most stroke survivors receive treatment in a rehabilitation program. Your doctor will recommend the most rigorous program you can handle based on your age, overall health and your degree of disability from your stroke. The recommendation will also take into account your lifestyle, interests and priorities, and availability of family members or other caregivers.

Your rehabilitation program may begin before you leave the hospital. It may continue in a rehabilitation unit of the same hospital, another rehabilitation unit or skilled nursing facility, an outpatient unit, or your home.

Every person’s stroke recovery is different. Depending on your complications, the team of people who help in your recovery could include these professionals :

  • Neurologist
  • Rehabilitation doctor (physiatrist)
  • Nurse
  • Dietitian
  • Physical therapist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Recreational therapist
  • Speech therapist
  • Social worker
  • Case manager
  • Psychologist or psychiatrist
  • Chaplain

Coping and support

A stroke is a life-changing event that can affect your emotional well-being as much as your physical function. Feelings of helplessness, frustration, depression and apathy aren’t unusual. Diminished sex drive and mood changes also are common.

Maintaining your self-esteem, connections to others and interest in the world are an essential part of your recovery. These strategies may help both you and your caregivers :

  • Don’t be hard on yourself. Accept that physical and emotional recovery will involve tough work and take time. Aim for a “new
    normal,” and celebrate all your progress. Allow time for rest.
  • Get out of the house even if it’s hard. Try not to be discouraged or self-conscious if you move slowly and need a cane, walker or
    wheelchair to get around. Getting out is good for you.
  • Join a support group. Meeting with others who are coping with a stroke lets you get out and share experiences, exchange
    information and forge new friendships.
  • Let friends and family know what you need. People may want to help but not be sure how. Let them know that you would like them
    to bring over a meal and stay to eat with you and talk, or to help you get out to lunch or attend social events or church activities.
  • Know that you are not alone. Nearly 800,000 Americans have a stroke every year. About 6.5 million are living with stroke today.

Communication challenges

One of the most frustrating effects of stroke is that it can affect speech and language. Here are some tips to help both stroke survivors and caregivers cope with communication challenges :

  • Practice will help. Try to have a conversation at least once a day. It will help you learn what works best for you, help you feel
    connected and rebuild your confidence.
  • Relax and take your time. Talking may be easiest and most enjoyable in a relaxing situation when you have plenty of time. Some
    stroke survivors find that after dinner is a good time.
  • Say it your way. When you’re recovering from a stroke, you may need to use fewer words, or to rely on gestures or your tone of
    voice to get an idea across.
  • Use props and communication aids. You may find it helpful to use cue cards showing frequently used words, pictures of close friends
    and family members, and daily activities such as a favorite television show or the bathroom.


Knowing your stroke risk factors, following your doctor’s recommendations and adopting a healthy lifestyle are the best steps you can take to prevent a stroke. If you’ve had a stroke or a TIA, these measures may also help you avoid having another one. Many stroke prevention strategies are the same as for preventing heart disease. In general, a healthy lifestyle means that you :

  • Control high blood pressure (hypertension). One of the most important things you can do to reduce your stroke risk is to keep your
    blood pressure under control. If you’ve had a stroke, lowering your blood pressure can help prevent a subsequent transient
    ischemic attack or stroke. Exercising, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting the amount of sodium and alcohol
    you eat and drink are all ways to keep high blood pressure in check. Adding more potassium to your diet may also help. In addition
    to recommendations for lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe medications to treat high blood pressure, such as diuretics,
    calcium channel blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers.
  • Lower the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet. Eating less cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat and trans
    fats, may reduce the plaques in your arteries. If you can’t control your cholesterol through dietary changes alone, your doctor may
    prescribe a statin such as simvastatin (Zocor) or atorvastatin (Lipitor) or another type of cholesterol-lowering medication.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking raises the risk of stroke for both the smoker and nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke. Quitting
    smoking reduces your risk – several years after quitting, a former smoker’s risk of stroke is the same as that of a nonsmoker.
  • Control diabetes. You can manage diabetes with diet, exercise, weight control and medication.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight contributes to other risk factors for stroke, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular
    disease and diabetes. Weight loss of as little as 10 pounds may lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol levels.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. A diet containing five or more daily servings of fruits or vegetables may reduce your risk of
  • Exercise regularly. Aerobic exercise reduces your risk of stroke in many ways. Exercise can lower your blood pressure, increase
    your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol, and improve the overall health of your blood vessels and heart.
    It also helps you lose weight, control diabetes and reduce stress. Gradually work up to 30 minutes of activity – such as walking,
    jogging, swimming or bicycling – on most, if not all, days of the week.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Alcohol can be both a risk factor and a preventive measure for stroke. Binge drinking and
    heavy alcohol consumption increase your risk of high blood pressure and of ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. However, drinking
    small to moderate amounts of alcohol can increase your HDL cholesterol and decrease your blood’s clotting tendency. Both factors
    can contribute to a reduced risk of ischemic stroke.
  • Don’t use illicit drugs. Certain street drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamines, are established risk factors for a TIA or a

Preventive medications

If you’ve had an ischemic stroke or TIA, your doctor may recommend medications to help reduce your risk of having another. These include :

  • Anti-platelet drugs. Platelets are cells in your blood that initiate clots. Anti-platelet drugs make these cells less sticky and less likely
    to clot. The most frequently used anti-platelet medication is aspirin. Your doctor can help you determine the right dose of aspirin for
  • Your doctor may also consider prescribing Aggrenox, a combination of low-dose aspirin and the anti-platelet drug dipyridamole, to
    reduce blood clotting. If aspirin doesn’t prevent your TIA or stroke or if you can’t take aspirin, your doctor may instead prescribe an
    anti-platelet drug such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or ticlopidine (Ticlid).
  • Anticoagulants – These drugs include heparin and warfarin (Coumadin). They affect the clotting mechanism in a different manner
    than do anti-platelet medications. Heparin is fast acting and is used over the short term in the hospital. Slower acting warfarin is
    used over a longer term.
  • Warfarin is a powerful blood-thinning drug, so you’ll need to take it exactly as directed and watch for side effects. Your doctor may
    prescribe these drugs if you have certain blood-clotting disorders; certain arterial abnormalities; an abnormal heart rhythm, such as
    atrial fibrillation: or other heart problems.

Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from your face to your brain. If you have trigeminal neuralgia, even mild stimulation of your face – such as from brushing your teeth or putting on makeup – may trigger a jolt of excruciating pain.

You may initially experience short, mild attacks, but trigeminal neuralgia can progress, causing longer, more frequent bouts of searing pain. Trigeminal neuralgia affects women more often than men, and it’s more likely to occur in people who are older than 50.

Because of the variety of treatment options available, having trigeminal neuralgia doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doomed to a life of pain. Doctors usually can effectively manage trigeminal neuralgia with medications, injections or surgery.


Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms may include one or more of these patterns :

  • Occasional twinges of mild pain
  • Episodes of severe, shooting or jabbing pain that may feel like an electric shock
  • Spontaneous attacks of pain or attacks triggered by things such as touching the face, chewing, speaking and brushing teeth
  • Bouts of pain lasting from a few seconds to several seconds
  • Episodes of several attacks lasting days, weeks, months or longer – some people have periods when they experience no pain
  • Pain in areas supplied by the trigeminal nerve (nerve branches), including the cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, lips, or less often the eye
    and forehead
  • Pain affecting one side of your face at a time
  • Pain focused in one spot or spread in a wider pattern
  • Attacks becoming more frequent and intense over time

When to see a doctor
If you experience facial pain, particularly prolonged or recurring pain or pain unrelieved by over-the-counter pain relievers, see your doctor.

Causes :
In trigeminal neuralgia, also called tic douloureux, the trigeminal nerve’s function is disrupted. Usually, the problem is contact between a normal blood vessel – in this case, an artery or a vein – and the trigeminal nerve, at the base of your brain. This contact puts pressure on the nerve and causes it to malfunction.

Trigeminal neuralgia can occur as a result of aging, or it can be related to multiple sclerosis or a similar disorder that damages the myelin sheath protecting certain nerves. Less commonly, trigeminal neuralgia can be caused by a tumor compressing the trigeminal nerve. In other cases, a cause can’t be found.


A variety of triggers may set off the pain of trigeminal neuralgia, including :

  • Shaving
  • Stroking your face
  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Brushing your teeth
  • Talking
  • Putting on makeup
  • Encountering a breeze
  • Smiling

Tests and diagnosis

A diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia is primarily based on a description of your pain, including the :

  • Type – Pain related to trigeminal neuralgia is sudden, shock-like and brief.
  • Location – The parts of your face that are affected will tell your doctor if the trigeminal nerve is involved.
  • Triggers – Trigeminal neuralgia-related pain is typically brought on by light stimulation of the cheeks, such as from eating, talking or even encountering a cool breeze.

Tests used to confirm the diagnosis may include :

  • A neurological examination –
    Touching and examining parts of your face can help your doctor determine exactly where the pain is occurring and – if you appear to have trigeminal neuralgia – which branches of the trigeminal nerve may be affected.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    An MRI scan of your head can show if multiple sclerosis is causing trigeminal neuralgia.

Facial pain can be caused by many different disorders, so an accurate diagnosis is important. Your doctor may order additional tests to rule out other conditions.

Treatments and drugs :
Trigeminal neuralgia treatment usually starts with medications, and many people require no additional treatment. However, over time, some people with the disorder eventually stop responding to medications, or they experience unpleasant side effects. For those people, injections or surgery provide other trigeminal neuralgia treatments options.

Medications –

Medications to lessen or block the pain signals sent to your brain are the most common initial treatment for trigeminal neuralgia.

Anticonvulsants –
Carbamazepine (Tegretol, Carbatrol) is the drug most commonly prescribed – and with the most demonstrated effectiveness – for trigeminal neuralgia. Other anticonvulsant drugs used to treat trigeminal neuralgia include oxcarbazepine (Trileptal), lamotrigine (Lamictal), phenytoin (Dilantin, Phenytek) and gabapentin (Neurontin).

If the anticonvulsant you’re using begins to lose effectiveness, your doctor may increase the dose or switch to another type. Side effects of anticonvulsants may include dizziness, confusion, drowsiness, double vision and nausea. Also, carbamazepine can trigger a serious drug reaction in some people, mainly those of Asian descent, so genetic testing may be recommended before you start carbamazepine.

Antispasmodic agents –
Muscle-relaxing agents such as baclofen may be used alone or in combination with carbamazepine or phenytoin. Side effects may include confusion, nausea and drowsiness.

Alcohol injection –

Alcohol injections provide temporary pain relief by numbing the affected areas of your face. Your doctor will inject alcohol into the part of your face corresponding to the trigeminal nerve branch causing pain. The pain relief isn’t permanent, so you may need repeated injections or a different procedure in the future. Side effects may include infections at the injection site, bleeding and damage to nearby nerves.

Surgery –

The goal of surgery for trigeminal neuralgia is either to stop the blood vessel from compressing the trigeminal nerve or to damage the trigeminal nerve to keep it from malfunctioning. Damaging the nerve often causes temporary or permanent facial numbness, and with any of the surgical procedures, the pain can return months or years later.

Surgical options for trigeminal neuralgia include :

Gamma-knife radiosurgery (GKR) –
This procedure involves delivering a focused, high dose of radiation to the root of the trigeminal nerve. Because of GKR’s effectiveness and safety compared with other surgical options for trigeminal neuralgia, the procedure is becoming widely used and may be offered earlier than other surgical procedures.

Gamma – knife radiosurgery uses radiation to damage the trigeminal nerve and reduce or eliminate pain. Relief occurs gradually and can take several weeks to begin. GKR is successful in eliminating pain for the majority of people. If pain recurs, the procedure can be repeated. Fewer than 5 percent of people who undergo this procedure experience side effects, which may include lasting loss of facial sensation. The procedure is painless and typically is done without anesthesia.

Microvascular decompression (MVD) –
This procedure involves relocating or removing blood vessels that are in contact with the trigeminal root.

During MVD, your doctor makes an incision behind the ear on the side of your pain. Then, through a small hole in your skull, part of your brain is lifted to expose the trigeminal nerve. Any artery in contact with the nerve root is directed away from the nerve, and the surgeon places a pad between the nerve and the artery. If a vein is compressing the nerve, the surgeon typically will remove it.

MVD can successfully eliminate or reduce pain most of the time, but pain can recur in some people. While MVD has a high success rate, it also carries risks. There are small chances of decreased hearing, facial weakness, facial numbness, double vision, and even a stroke or death. Most people who have this procedure have no facial numbness afterward.

Note that if no artery or vein appears to be compressing the nerve, your surgeon may sever part of the nerve, instead. This procedure is called a rhizotomy.

Glycerol injection –
During this procedure, your doctor inserts a needle through your face and into an opening in the base of your skull. The needle is guided into the trigeminal cistern, a small sac of spinal fluid that surrounds the trigeminal nerve ganglion — where the trigeminal nerve divides into three branches — and part of its root. Images are made to confirm that the needle is in the proper location, and then a small amount of sterile glycerol is injected. After three or four hours, the glycerol damages the trigeminal nerve and blocks pain signals. Initially, this procedure relieves pain in most people. However, some people have a later recurrence of pain, and many experience facial numbness or tingling.

Balloon compression –
In balloon compression of the trigeminal nerve, your doctor inserts a hollow needle through your face and into an opening in the base of your skull. Then, a thin, flexible tube (catheter) with a balloon on the end is threaded through the needle. The balloon is inflated with enough pressure to damage the nerve and block pain signals. Balloon compression successfully controls pain in most people, at least for a while. Most people undergoing this procedure experience some facial numbness, and some experience temporary or permanent weakness of the muscles used to chew.

Electric current (radiofrequency thermal rhizotomy) –
This procedure selectively destroys nerve fibers associated with pain. While you’re sedated, your doctor places a hollow needle through your face and into an opening in your skull. Once the needle is positioned, an electrode is threaded through it to the nerve root. You’re then awakened from sedation so that you can indicate when and where you feel tingling from the mild current pulsed through the tip of the electrode. When the neurosurgeon locates the part of the nerve involved in your pain, you are returned to sedation. Then the electrode is heated until it damages the nerve fibers, creating an area of injury (lesion). If your pain isn’t eliminated, your doctor may create additional lesions. Almost everyone who undergoes radiofrequency thermal rhizotomy has some facial numbness after the procedure.

Severing the nerve (rhizotomy) –
A procedure called partial trigeminal rhizotomy involves cutting part of the trigeminal nerve at the base of your brain. Through an incision behind your ear, your doctor makes a quarter-sized hole in your skull to access the nerve. Because it cuts the nerve at its source, your face will be numb permanently.