In an in-depth essay for The New Yorker, Games of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke says she almost died from two aneurysms while in her twenties. Now 32, Clarke wrote in The New Yorker, “after keeping quiet all these years [about the aneurysms], I’m telling you the truth in full.” Clarke was only 24 when she had her first aneurysm in February of 2011, according to The New Yorker piece. She said she was at the gym working out with her trainer when she experienced a super bad headache that progressed in severity really quickly, extreme fatigue, and then this feeling like an “elastic band were squeezing my brain.”
Clarke vomited in the gym locker room and nearly lost consciousness, she said in The New Yorker, and she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. She said after an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain scan, she was diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which Mayo Clinic says is “bleeding in the space between your brain and the surrounding membrane.” That was Clarke’s first aneurysm, which Clarke said doctors were able to seal off through surgery.
Dr. Michael Abraham, MD, FAHA, a neurologist at the University of Kansas Health System, tells Bustle that “an aneurysm is a ballooning out of a weakened part of the artery. If it gets too big, it can rupture or bleed, causing a hemorrhagic stroke,” which is similar to what Clarke experienced. Dr. Abraham says an unruptured aneurysm rarely causes any symptoms unless it’s really big, but when an aneurysm ruptures and causes a hemorrhagic stroke, you might experience the worst headache of your life or a thunderclap headache, nausea, vomiting, loss of consciousness, or even a seizure.
Around six million people in the United States have an unruptured brain aneurysm, but women are more likely than men to have one, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Dr. Deanna Sasaki-Adams, associate professor and section chief of Cerebrovascular and Skull Based Surgery at UNC Neurosurgery, tells Bustle there’s also a potential genetic link to your risk for developing an aneurysm. “If you have two first-degree relatives who have been diagnosed with a brain aneurysm, you should be screened,” says Dr. Sasaki-Adams.
But smoking and chronic high blood pressure can also increase your risk of developing an aneurysm, Dr. Sasaki-Adams tells Bustle. And Dr. Deepak Gulati, medical director of Telestroke and vascular neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Bustle that, although it’s possible to develop a brain aneurysm at any age, they are most common in people ages 30 to 60. While Clarke thankfully survived her aneurysm rupturing, Dr. Sasaki-Adams tells Bustle that most people have a 30 to 40 percent chance of dying from an aneurysm.
Clarke said in The New Yorker that while she was recovering from surgery to seal off the first aneurysm, the doctors discovered a second, smaller, unruptured aneurysm on the other side of her brain that could “remain dormant and harmless indefinitely” or “pop at any time.” She said she and her doctors decided to monitor the aneurysm with regular brain scans, but Clarke still struggled with debilitating fatigue and pain. Clarke said she went in for a routine brain scan in 2013, and the doctors found that the aneurysm had doubled in size.
After two painful surgeries, Clarke said she came out on the other end. “In the years since my second surgery, I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes. I am now at a hundred per cent [sic],” Clarke said in The New Yorker.
If you’re concerned about your risk for developing an aneurysm, Dr. Sasaki-Adams recommends talking to family, friends, and your primary care doctor. There is a screening test for brain aneurysm, says Dr. Sasaki-Adams, and you can see a neurosurgeon who specializes in neurosurgery or neuro-interventional radiology or neurology to discuss treatment options if the screening finds an aneurysm. An aneurysm might be a serious health event, but there are things you can do to mitigate your risk of developing an aneurysm in your lifetime.