Aneurysm vs Stroke: What’s the Difference?

Aneurysms and strokes are medical phenomena that are often confused for one another. The two have many key differences, however.

A stroke happens when the blood being supplied to a part of the brain is interrupted, in turn causing the area to be deprived of oxygen and other nutrients. Brain cells start dying in as little as minutes. On the other hand, an aneurysm happens when part of an arterial wall becomes weaker, which causes it to abnormally balloon. Both are considered medical emergencies, but aneurysms are only considered an emergency if they rupture, at which point they become life-threatening. Luckily, both strokes and aneurysms may be prevented through early detection and treatment. 

Strokes have some symptoms that may differ from those associated with aneurysms, which may be asymptomatic. If you’re having an aneurysm and present with symptoms, they will depend on where the aneurysm is, however. When it comes to strokes, the Mayo Clinic says it is important to note when the symptoms crop up, because the length of time they’ve been present could influence your treatment options:

  • Trouble walking. You could begin stumbling, or experience a sudden loss of coordination.
  • Difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes. You may experience blurred, blackened, or even double vision.
  • Trouble speaking and understanding. You might experience confusion, have trouble understanding speech, or slur your own words.
  • Paralysis or numbness in your face, arm, or leg. You could suddenly develop numbness, paralysis, or weakness in your arm, leg, or face. Often times, this will occur on only one side of your body. Additionally, one side of your mouth may droop when you try smiling. The Mayo Clinic suggests you should try to raise both arms over your head at once; if one arm starts falling, you could be having a stroke.
  • Sudden, severe headache. You may suddenly experience an intense headache, a symptom similar to one that accompanies a leaking or ruptured aneurysm. The headache could come with altered consciousness, dizziness, or vomiting; if this is the case, you may be having a stroke.

The Mayo Clinic says you should seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the above signs, even if they disappear or seem to come and go. Think “FAST”: 

  • Face: Ask the person to smile, and check if one side of the face droops.
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms, and check if one arm drops downwards, or if one arm cannot be moved upwards.
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase, and check if their speech is slurred or otherwise strange.
  • Time: Immediately call 911 if you observe any of the above signs.