Subarachnoid hemorrhage

A subarachnoid hemorrhage is the bursting of a blood vessel in the brain. This results in sudden bleeding into the space between the middle lining of the brain (arachnoid membrane) and the brain itself.

A subarachnoid hemorrhage causes sudden, severe head pain. This condition requires immediate medical care to prevent brain injury and death.


What causes a subarachnoid hemorrhage?

Most subarachnoid hemorrhages are caused when a brain aneurysm bursts. An aneurysm (say "ANN-yuh-riz-um") is a bulging, weak area in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain.

It can be hard to know what exactly caused a brain aneurysm and why it burst. Many things can raise the risk of this, such as smoking, high blood pressure, and a family history of aneurysms.

This type of hemorrhage can also be caused by many other things, including a head injury.


How is a subarachnoid hemorrhage treated?

The goal of treatment is to prevent brain damage, more bleeding, and other serious problems. You will likely be in the hospital's intensive care unit, where your medical team can keep a close watch on you. They will work to control your blood pressure, manage pain, and watch for symptoms of brain damage.

You may have more tests to find out for sure that an aneurysm caused the bleeding. If you have an aneurysm, you may have a procedure or surgery to repair it. This can help prevent another bleeding episode.

Treatments to repair an aneurysm include:

  • Clipping. The doctor makes cuts (incisions) in your scalp and through the bone of your skull. Then the doctor places a tiny metal clip over the weak part of the blood vessel. This stops the flow of blood.
  • Coiling. The doctor makes a cut in your groin or wrist. Then the doctor moves a small plastic tube through the cut and into a blood vessel. The tube is called a catheter. Using X-rays, the doctor gently guides the catheter through the blood vessel up to the brain aneurysm. Then the doctor uses a tool to fill up the aneurysm with tiny wire coils or block the opening. This keeps blood from getting back into the aneurysm.

You will need treatment even if your symptoms go away. This is because there is a good chance that the area will bleed again.

Copyrighted material adapted with permission from Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.