Migraine vs Brain Aneurysm – Which is it?

You’re having massive head pain – and other strange symptoms – it’s natural to wonder if you’re going to recover!  So that brings us to one common question – is it migraine, or brain aneurysm (aneurism) (also called cerebral aneurysm)?  Let’s see if we can shed some light on this issue:

Migraine vs Brain Aneurysm

Migraine vs Brain Aneurysm

First, some key things to remember:

  1. Brain aneurysm may cause no symptoms whatsoever.  If there are symptoms, they can vary widely in how severe they are.
  2. Migraine attacks can come with no headache whatsoever.  Again, symptoms vary widely.
  3. With these things in mind, this is important: if you have a worst-ever headache, or an attack with symptoms that you’ve never head before, get to a doctor immediately, no matter what your guess is about what’s causing the pain.
  4. Symptoms of brain aneurism vary significantly depending on whether the aneurism is leaking, unruptured, or ruptured.  For our purposes we’ll include symptoms from all three, since you won’t know which is which without a test anyway.
  5. Migraine Attack Brain Aneurysm
    Symptoms of both:

    • severe headache
    • blurred/double vision
    • confusion
    • speech difficulties
    • nausea/vomiting
    • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
    Symptoms of both:

    • severe headache
    • blurred/double vision
    • confusion
    • speech difficulties
    • nausea/vomiting
    • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
    Symptoms more common in brain aneurysm:

    • neck pain/stiff neck
    • drooping eyelid
    • loss of consciousness
    • seizure
    • dilated pupil
    • drooping eyelid
    • numbness/weakness/paralysis on one side of the face
    • A more sudden, severe headache than in a typical migraine attack

    (Many of these symptoms may occur in migraine as well, or may not occur in brain aneurysm.  See notes above.)

    Some risk factors:

    • Family history of migraine
    • Usually begins before age 40, often during adolescence
    • Women are more likely to develop migraine
    Some risk factors:

    • Family history of aneurysm
    • Aging
    • Women are more likely to develop aneurysm
    • hypertension or arteriosclerosis
    • Drug, alcohol, tobacco use/abuse
    • Read more brain aneurysm risk factors here
    Other notes:  Symptoms of migraine attacks are usually temporary.  They generally resolve in a few hours or a few days, although symptoms may return.  For most types of migraine, there is no lab test – various types of migraine are diagnosed by symptoms.  Migraine may increase your risk for stroke and heart disease.

    Migraine is not normal, but it is much much more common than symptomatic cerebral aneurysm.

    Other notes:  Symptoms may come and go, or they may come to stay.  Headache may be severe and sudden, in which case you should waste no time getting to the EMERGENCY ROOM.  Brain aneurysm may lead to stroke, so stroke symptoms may indicate an aneurysm.  Tests for aneurysm are discussed below.

    Between 1.5 and 5% of the population will develop a cerebral aneurysm at some time in their life, but only a small percentage of those will ever develop significant symptoms.

    The symptom that should be taken the most seriously if you go to the emergency room is a sudden, severe, worst-ever headache.  Common tests include a computerized tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, cerebrospinal fluid test, and cerebral angiogram.

    Read more about brain aneurysm and its treatment here.
    Also see:  Aneurysm and Headache: 9 Ways to Know if I’m in Danger

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4 comments… add one
  • art kern May 7, 2016

    I have had swelling behind ear to jaw with the pain on occasion..have blurred vision..sometimes cannot get my eyes open temporary paralysis…I hav developed chorus on left side unknown origin with weakness at times.neurology has no clue…is this possible symtoms for aneur..??? Why would they not have tested for this….

  • Sharon Jernigan Oct 20, 2016

    Im having the same issue. I have an artery that sells up behind my ear and goes all the way to the back of my head. I mean this thing is large! It stands up from my scalp about the distance my finger would be if I laid out on my head. It is scaring me tremendously! I was diagnosed when I was 14 with basilar artery migraine. Sometimes the left side of my body goes numb. I have begged my Dr to run a scan and he says I’m scaring myself. He hasn’t felt that artery sticking and inch high off my scalp and it’s about 4 inches long! I’m seriously petrified I’m just going to be at work one day and boom. It busts. I’m trying to see a specialist but need a referral from my Dr!! Geez!! How can I get help? This is some scary stuff! My aunt and my aunts daughter have both died from this!! Dude keep hassling people until some one listens!!!! The next time it happens to me in going to an emergency room! Screw my Dr!! Something is wrong. It’s all on the right side of my head, not like my migraines, and my eye on that side pops blood vessels really bad!! I hope you get help and I will pray for you! Don’t give up keep hounding every dr you come in contact I wish you the best truly!!

  • Victoria Apr 16, 2017

    I have what I have called my episodes due to having the symptoms for over 20 years.

    It starts as a pressure at the back of the rights side of my skull also effecting my jaw. The pressure creates an inflamed slight pounding. But the pressure is unrelenting. This episode occurs usually at night in a horizontal position and can last for days. It effects my sleep because I can not lay on my back or right side for any length of time due to pressure building . So most of the time I am relegated to sleeping on my left side. I often wake to re-position myself when I wake due to moving positions in my sleep and my head is hurting.

    Over the years my doctor has put me on mild pain killers such as Tylenol 3 and rub on pain killers which give mild relief. I also have gone to ear, nose, throat specials which told me there are no signs anything wrong.

    Recently I re-visited my doctor and asked him to review my chart for he would see that this has been a very long on-going issue for me. He gave me more powerful pain killers which I take very sparingly….which sometimes have little effect. He also recommended a Nureoligist that I will be seeing in June because he suggested that this may be a migraine. Until then I had not considered this a migraine because of the location I had assumed that this was related to sinus issues.

    Now I am concerned that this could be something much more serious and really feel that I need extensive testing.

    Victoria

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