Migraine Headaches and Brain Aneurysms- Learn the Difference

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Migraine headaches and brain aneurysms share common symptoms; for that reason, chronic migraine sufferers fear their migraines may cause a cerebral aneurysm.  Here, we learn to tell the difference between migraines and aneurysms.  Find out if your headache symptoms are cause for alarm, and if you need to call emergency.


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What is a migraine headache?

Migraine headaches affect millions of people throughout the world. Overwhelmingly, migraine sufferers are women.  Headache specialists differ on the exact cause of migraines, but everybody agrees that migraine illness is a neurological disorder.

Migraine symptoms vary by patient, but the most common symptoms of a migraine attack are:

  • Severe, throbbing head pain, usually on one side of the head
  • Sharp pain behind one eye that spreads to the temples
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme sensitivity to light, noise, and scents
  • Visual disturbances, “auras,” such as zigzagging light sequences, expanding, crescent-shaped hallucinations, and temporary partial-blindness in one eye
  • Speech distortions
  • Dizziness
  • Distorted perception of spatial awareness and time


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What is a brain aneurysm?

Medline Plus defines an aneurysm as a “weak area in the wall of a blood vessel that causes the blood vessel to bulge or balloon out.”  Cerebral aneurysms are swollen blood vessels that occur in the brain, usually near the veins at the base of the brain, often producing severe migraine-like headaches.  An unruptured aneurysm is like a ticking time bomb, putting pressure on the brain, but causing no serious injury, save for headache pain and other disturbing symptoms.

What are the symptoms of a cerebral aneurysm headache?

Often, people who have a brain aneurysm don’t realize it until they start to experience headache symptoms.  For a chronic migraine patient, determining brain aneurysm can be difficult, as many of the symptoms of migraine headaches are similar to those of brain aneurysm headaches.

An unruptured aneurysm causes pain symptoms such as:

  • Severe headaches
  • Blurry vision
  • Speech distortions
  • Neck pain

What causes brain aneurysms?

There are several risk factors associated with brain aneurisms.  They are:

  • Concussion, or other head injury
  • Neck injury
  • Smoking
  • Hypertension, high blood pressure
  • Inherited disposition to brain aneurysms
  • Kidney disease
  • Infection of the arterial wall

When a cerebral aneurysm ruptures- symptoms

When a brain aneurysm leaks or ruptures, people often describe it as “the worse headache of their lives.” Sharp pain, referred to as a thunderclap headache or “crash” migraine, often occurs following physical exertion.  If you have a cerebral aneurysm, then anything from a strong sneeze, an intensive workout, or sexual relations can trigger migraine-like head pain that may signal a rupture or leak. If you suspect you have a ruptured brain aneurysm, then it is imperative that you call 911 immediately.

Symptoms of a ruptured aneurysm include:

  • Sudden, excruciating headache that is unlike any previous headaches, migraine-related or not
  • Neck pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Extreme sensitivity to light (similar to migraine symptoms)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizure

Is there any connection between chronic migraine headaches and brain aneurysms?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there is no proven connection between migraines and brain aneurysms. Although ruptured aneurysm headaches can mimic migraine headaches in their severity, for the typical migraine patient there is no cause for alarm.  An MRI can detect if a brain aneurysm exists.  So, unless you have been diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm, the odds of your migraine headaches being in any way linked with a brain aneurysm are highly unlikely. However, if you notice any sudden, unusual changes in the intensity or frequency of your migraines, then you should call emergency to schedule an MRI- just to be safe.

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