Silent killer most people don’t know they are living with

An aneurysm can affect any part of the body where there are blood vessels. The most fatal is one that affects the brain.  The  condition presents little symptoms until the artery bursts

Miriam Katheu was engrossed in reading for her exams on a Wednesday afternoon in October, 2017 when she received a phone call. It was her brother. His voice was taut as he delivered news that would change her life forever. “Mum collapsed. She is unconscious,” he said. Her brother sounded serious, but Miriam had trouble believing what she had just heard. At 65 years old her mother was fit, healthy and had never been admitted to hospital.

Besides, a phone conversation she had with her mother the previous night gave no indication of anything untoward. “I had not watched news for the three days as I was busy studying for exams and my mum sounded jovial as she filled me in on what was going on,” she says. In the few hours that followed, her mother lay in a hospital bed in a local facility where she had been rushed with her life hanging in the balance. She was on life support.

Tests showed that she had severe brain damage and she was immediately transferred to Kenyatta National Hospital. “Doctors first thought that she had fallen but a scan indicated that she had suffered intensive brain aneurysm, a word that we did not understand,”she says. Due to high blood pressure that had gone undetected, an artery in the brain had ruptured causing severe bleeding. As she lay on her bed motionless, it was hard for Miriam to equate that image to the woman she had known all along; the vibrant and industrious woman who always woke up at 4.00 am and retired to bed at 10.00 pm and rarely fell ill except for the occasional headache or cold.

The following one week would be the most excruciating for the family. There were no signs of improvement until three days later after undergoing a surgery to drain the blood. “She woke up for the first time and doctors were waiting for her blood pressure to go down then perform a surgery to clip the ruptured artery,” says Miriam. A day later the family woke up to the worst news, she was dead.

Equally devastated, Pauline Kagendo tells of how her sister Catherine Ndun’gu suddenly collapsed and died five months ago. At the age of 30 and with a six-month-old baby, Catherine was at the prime of her life until she succumbed to brain aneurysm. Despite their varying ages, the two women are just a fraction of many other people that have fallen victim to the least known condition- brain aneurysm. According to Dr John Boore, a neurosurgeon at The Karen Hospital, an aneurysm is a bulge of a blood vessel due to wearing out of tissue around the area. “You find that where blood vessels branch, a vessel may develop weakness and because of pressure of the pumping blood it tends to balloon,” he says. Most people in the population have aneurysms, which are not detected and they lead a healthy life.

Trouble comes when an aneurysm bursts and causes bleeding in the brain.  “Depending on the severity of the bleeding in the brain patients may slip into coma.  Almost half of the patients whose aneurysms burst, collapse and die,” he says. The treatment options for brain aneurysm include surgical clipping of the affected area or coiling which involves insertion of a plastic tube to the vessel.  Screening of brain aneurysm is done through scans.

Aneurysm can occur at any part of the body where there are blood vessels.

Of all the aneurysms, however, the one that occurs in the brain is the most fatal. Though there are no definite known causes of brain aneurysms, certain factors makes one more susceptible to them. “Coming from a family that has a history of aneurysms, being hypertensive and lifestyle factors such as smoking puts one at the risk of getting an aneurysm,” says Boore.

One of the common symptoms of a brain aneurysm is a severe headache that clears after few hours.  “Most patients term it as the worst headache of the lives,” he adds. Boore advises people to seek medical treatment in case they experience these symptoms.

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