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In 2009, actress Natasha Richardson took what looked like a minor spill during a ski lesson. Two days later, Richardson passed away because of bleeding in the brain caused by the fall. Any injury that involves bleeding directly in or around the brain can be deadly. Knowing the risk factors and symptoms of brain hemorrhage can help you lessen your chances of this injury and, if necessary, seek treatment soon enough to make a difference.
What Is It?
A brain hemorrhage comes in two forms. The first type involves bleeding directly in the brain and is usually caused by either a burst artery or when the head takes a hard hit in a fall. The second type occurs in the area between the brain and tissue covering it when, typically, a blood vessel expands and finally bursts. Blood from the burst vessel exerts pressure on the brain, cutting off oxygen to cells and, ultimately, killing them. Blood also irritates brain tissues, creating a bruise or bump called a hematoma, which can also place pressure on brain tissue.
Symptoms to Watch For
Occasionally, you won't feel any initial symptoms. When symptoms of brain hemorrhage appear, they may come as a combination of the following:
- A sudden and very severe headache.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Partial or total loss of consciousness.
Some symptoms of brain hemorrhage are common to all stroke warning signs:
- Vision problems.
- Slurred speech.
- Partial paralysis on one side of the body.
If you or someone you love is experiencing the symptoms above, call 911 immediately. Every minute saved in gaining treatment can make a difference, as EMS crews often start treatment on the way to the hospital.
Surgery is usually required to relieve pressure the burst blood vessel exerts on the brain. Once pressure is relieved, the vessel can be permanently clipped off. After surgery, hospitalization often continues for up to two weeks to treat possible complications that arise. Depending on the extent of the injury from the bleeding, physical or speech therapy may be needed.
Reducing Your Risk
Genetic problems can make a person more susceptible to bleeding in the brain. One of these involves an abnormal connection between arteries and veins. Normally, arteries deliver blood from the heart to the brain, and veins return blood to the heart for more oxygen. With arteriovenous malformation (AVM), however, many arteries and veins bypass the brain and connect directly to each other. Some blood-clotting disorders such as sickle cell disease and hemophilia also increase your risk of a brain hemorrhage.
You can't control those genetic factors or the occurrence of a head injury, but you can control these risks:
- High blood pressure. Also called hypertension, this health problem is both common and controllable.
- Anti-clotting medication. Your doctor might recommend this to help prevent the formation of blood-vessel blockages.
- Drug/alcohol abuse. Research links substance abuse to a higher risk of bleeding in the brain. People in their 20s and 30s account for as much as 90 percent of drug-associated brain hemorrhages, according to the National Stroke Association.
- Diet. Taking care of your diet will help control your blood pressure, lower your cholesterol, and regulate your weight. These steps help your body prevent conditions that lead to a hemorrhagic stroke. In general, add vegetables, fruits, and fish to your diet while avoiding foods that are fatty or high in salt, sodium, or sugar.
Simply put, the best way to keep your brain healthy is to keep your body healthy. Of course, listening to your doctor's recommendations for medication and blood-pressure control is also of importance. In the end, however, being able to recognize brain-hemorrhage symptoms allows you to take action and seek medical care immediately -- making a potentially life-saving difference for you or a loved one.