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Brain Aneurysm and Organ Donation

Why passing away from a brain aneurysm might result in the rare conditions needed to be an organ donor.

This post was written by contributor, Derek Fuchsberger, RN. 

A brain aneurysm occurs when an artery in the brain – usually near an area where the artery branches off into two smaller vessels – experiences weakness in that vessel wall. This weakness, in turn, fills with blood and bulges out of the side of the artery like a balloon. If the pressure on that area ruptures the vessel, blood can leak onto the surrounding brain tissue which can lead to a possible hemorrhagic stroke, coma and/or death. It is important to note that an aneurysm is not the bursting of the vessel, but the bulge of blood in the vessel wall.

Many people can live normal lives with an aneurysm and never know it’s there, in fact, most aneurysms are found when performing scans, such as CT and MRI, for other conditions. Larger aneurysms may present with symptoms of headache, numbness, weakness, or vision changes. The life-threatening symptoms of an aneurysm rupture include sudden onset of extreme pain in the head, vision changes, slurred speech, weakness on one side of the body, dilated pupil, facial drooping, and loss of consciousness just to name a few. This is a severe medical emergency and immediate intervention is required.

Aneurysm Risk Factors

The most common risk factors for developing an aneurysm are associated with high blood pressure as this is very likely a contributing factor. These include smoking, obesity, increased age, increased salt consumption, drug abuse, alcohol consumption, caffeine consumption, lack of exercise, and having African ancestry. Other risk factors include family history, abnormal vessel wall producing genetic disorders, head trauma, brain tumors, those assigned female at birth, tissue disorders, and anything else that can lead to weakness or thinning of the vessel walls.

Aneurysms can occur in any artery throughout the body but are most common and most dangerous in the brain and abdomen. Treatment for known aneurysms can include awareness and monitoring, lifestyle changes, blood pressure management, or surgical clipping of the aneurysm in the case of a large ballooning or an aneurysm suspected of rupture. Again, most brain aneurysms do not rupture.

The medical emergency that ensues when an aneurysm bursts, is also known as a hemorrhagic stroke. It is this type of stroke that, if not treated quickly and effectively, leads to the patient’s death or lingering effects. Due to this fact, it is very important to know the symptoms of a stroke and act fast.

Aneurysm and Organ Donation

If the patient does get to the hospital quickly but, unfortunately, still does not survive, the patient may meet the extremely rare criteria for organ, eye and tissue donation. This is due to the following factors:

  • When a patient with a stroke arrives at the hospital, they are intubated and on life saving medications.
  • If they do not survive, the hospital staff will be able to keep the necessary supply of blood and oxygen to the organs until they can be donated (if it is the patient or the family’s wishes). This oxygenation is necessary for them to be viable or healthy to function once they reach the recipient.
  • Passing away in a hospital means medical professionals who specialize in organ procurement can be contacted and begin the assessment to save and heal countless others.

Organ Donation

Organ donation involves a thorough screening process to ensure organs are save to transplant into people who are critically ill. This makes the ability to donate an extremely rare occurrence. For example, less than 6% of deaths can donate cornea, less than 3% of deaths can donate tissue, and less than 1% of deaths can donate organs. It is also a fairly rare occurrence to develop an aneurysm in the first place, and even more rare for it to rupture and become a hemorrhagic stroke. However, as stated above, if caught and handled correctly, this ruptured aneurysms can lend itself to fitting into these small percentages of organ donation.

Derek Fuchsberger is a Registered Nurse with three years of ICU experience. His background includes coaching soccer, graphic design, technology and communications. Currently, he is working as an ICU Nurse while pursuing a career in medical writing. 

In his free time, Derek is an award-winning winemaker.