KNOXVILLE (WATE) – The halls of UT Medical Center’s Radiology Department have become familiar to patient Karen Beaty. She goes there for regular checkups following treatment for not one, but two brain aneurysms.
Beaty remembers the day she knew something was “off” with her health.
“It was Sunday morning at church,” Beaty recalled. “I started feeling dizzy as if I were going to pass out, and when I went home, I just couldn’t feel better.”
Beaty ended up being transported by Lifestar to UT Medical Center.
“Yeah, well, I was really, really scared,” Beaty said. “My daughter, as a matter of fact, said- she was 24 at the time- ‘Mom, I’ve never seen you scared, ever.’ So when I said I was scared, everybody else was scared.”
Dr. Andrew Ferrell, an interventional radiologist at UTMC, showed the angiograms revealing the larger aneurysm that had him most concerned, because of its proximity to Beaty’s eye.
“This ball here is the aneurysm and that’s not supposed to be there. This is the opthalmic artery, kind of behind Karen’s eye.”
Thankfully, that aneurysm and the other smaller one had not ruptured. Dr. Ferrell repaired one with tiny coils, and cleared the other a few months later with a small stent.
“We put a small little catheter up in to the aneurysm and we fill it full of metal coils,” Dr. Ferrell explained. “I tell people that metal coils are like unwound miniature Slinkys and basically it’s very soft metal that fills the dead space of the aneurysm and causes it to clot off.”
Beaty is grateful for such a good outcome.
“I’m just really blessed to be here.”
Dr. Ferrell says most aneurysms are found by accident through scans when a patient complains of a headache, or they’re found after they’ve ruptured, which is the most dangerous and deadly type of aneurysm. The doctor says Beaty is among a small population that may or may not have had a few symptoms without the aneurysm rupturing.
About two percent of the population has one or more cranial aneurysms.
“The overwhelming majority of people don’t know they have one. They don’t cause symptoms unless they rupture, and they rupture at a pretty small rate,” said Dr. Ferrell.
Studies show aneurysms don’t rupture at a high rate, but if they do, Dr. Ferrell says about 50 percent of the people with ruptured aneurysms don’t make it to the hospital. If a patient does survive by the time they reach the hospital, many die soon after, or have significant problems due to the aneurysm such as a stroke or other debilitating conditions.
Most people’s unruptured aneurysms are asymptomatic, so how can you tell if you have one?
“There’s not a good way to predict,” Dr. Ferrell said. “Ninety-eight percent of people don’t [have aneurysms] so it’s not cost effective or it’s not in your best benefit to screen for aneurysms. And quite frankly you might find a lot of small aneurysms that might not cause trouble.”
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; and confusion
Dr. Ferrell says if you have a first degree family member who has had an aneurysm, or if you have two immediate family members who’ve had an aneurysm, you are at higher risk.
He says aneurysms do run in families – there is a genetic component. He says if you have a strong family connection, you may have a 10 percent chance of having an aneurysm, and would need to be screened.
If you’re a survivor or have a family member who suffered from an aneurysm, check out the Facebook aneurysm awareness group. It has more than 2,300 members and is having its first face-to-face event in East Tennessee the weekend of September 17.