Brain aneurysms: Helping navigate to recovery

Approximately 1 in 50 people in the United States will develop a brain aneurysm, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Most aneurysms go unnoticed until they become very large or burst.

Aneurysms are a balloon-like swelling from a weakness in the wall of one of the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. Patients who have either situation could potentially be experiencing symptoms of headaches, blurred vison, neck pain, changes in speech and an unsteady gait. The most common symptom is the constant headache.

Anyone experiencing sudden onset of symptoms where a stroke is suspected should seek medical treatment right away by calling 911.

For symptoms that could be classified as coming on gradually or they are constant, like a headache that will never go away, check with your primary care physician. If they suspect the symptoms are related to the brain, the physician might request a brain magnetic resonance angiogram (MRA) or computed tomography angiogram, which are scans that focus on the blood vessels in the brain.

Once the physician determines the patient is in need of diagnostic testing or a procedure at McLeod, then as the neuroscience clinical nurse navigator, I am contacted by the referring physician’s nurse. I then reach out to the patient to prepare them for the next steps — making sure they have completed their pre-admission testing, COVID-19 testing, know what building they need to report to, review any pre-procedure requirements and answer any questions they might have. The day of their appointment, I meet the patient and answer any additional questions.

I am here to help patients understand their condition. For anyone who either smokes or is diagnosed with high blood pressure, they need to understand that although these were not the cause of the aneurysm, they can speed up the growth process.

I remain in contact with patients once they are discharged from the hospital to see how they are doing. I provide patients with the education they need to care for themselves after their procedure and, if necessary, I can reach out to their physician to get answers to questions. I am one resource that patients can get all questions answered without having to make multiple phone calls.

For patients diagnosed with an unruptured brain aneurysm, endovascular coiling is a method of treatment available at McLeod. Coiling involves inserting small metal coils into the aneurysm through the arteries that run from the groin to the brain. The coils remain in the aneurysm and stop blood from flowing into the aneurysm. This reduces the risk of the aneurysm increasing in size and rupturing.

The size, location and shape of the aneurysm will help the physician determine if coiling is an effective treatment option for the patient.

After their procedure, patients are cared for in the trauma surgical care unit or the neuroscience care unit in the McLeod Critical Care Tower. The neuroscience care unit is a specialized 20-bed unit. This unit began as a unit dedicated exclusively for the treatment and rehabilitation of people who have suffered a stroke and has now expanded to also care for neurology, neurosurgical and surgical patients.

The training of the staff for this unit is an additional part of my educational duties. When new nurses are hired for this unit, I assist with educating the staff on how to care for this patient population.

I believe I was born to be a nurse, and throughout my life I have always focused on the needs of others. My role as the neuroscience clinical nurse navigator allows me to keep following my calling. I can be everything the patient needs me to be to help make their experience here at McLeod the best it can be. And, taking excellent care of the patient is what it is all about.

MARY B. BAKER McLeod Clinical Neuroscience Nurse Navigator