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Q: Are a stroke and a brain aneurysm the same thing? How can I tell the difference?

The terms “stroke” and “aneurysm” are sometimes used interchangeably, but these two serious conditions have some significant differences.

A stroke occurs when there is a ruptured blood vessel in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke) or blood supply to the brain has been blocked (ischemic stroke). An aneurysm is the result of a weakened artery wall and can be present for a long time with no symptoms. Aneurysms may rupture and bleed, and when this occurs in the brain, it falls in the hemorrhagic stroke category.

An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke, accounting for about 87 percent of all strokes. It occurs when an artery in the brain or an artery carrying blood to the brain becomes blocked. The blockage may be a blood clot or a narrowing of the artery due to plaque buildup.

A hemorrhagic stroke is a bleeding event in which an artery ruptures. Blood either stops flowing altogether through that artery, or blood flow is reduced as blood leaks out through the new opening in the artery wall. The most common cause of a hemorrhagic stroke is the bursting of a small artery due to high blood pressure. It can also be caused by a ruptured cerebral aneurysm. A blood vessel wall becomes weak because it is bulging outward and eventually can burst.

Signs of stroke include sudden weakness or drooping in the arms, legs, or face, especially on one side of the body. The person may also be confused, have difficulty speaking, have changes in vision, or have a sudden headache. An aneurysm may not cause any symptoms at all until it ruptures. When that happens, the most common symptom is a sudden, very intense headache. The person may also experience nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, drooping eyelid, and loss of consciousness. You can remember the acronym BE FAST to help you recall the signs and symptoms of stroke.

B – BALANCE: Watch for sudden loss of balance
E – EYES: Check for vision loss
F – FACE: Look for an uneven smile
A – ARM: Check if one arm or leg is weak
S – SPEECH: Listen for slurred speech
T – TIME: Call 911 right away

Both a stroke and a ruptured brain aneurysm can become life-threatening within minutes, so if someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 to get medical attention immediately.