Lisa Colagrossi, a mother of two and a respected network news journalist in New York City, was experiencing the worst headache of her life.
“She said it felt like her head was going to explode,” recalls her husband, Todd Crawford. Along with her awful headache, Colagrossi had a stiff neck, a tingling sensation in her face, and sensitivity to light. “The headache would last a couple of hours, and then it would subside for a day or two,” Crawford says. “We talked about her getting it checked out, but she didn’t feel like she had time, so we dismissed it.”
That decision, tragically, would prove fatal when in March 2015—three weeks after her headaches first began—Colagrossi suffered a ruptured aneurysm.
“One thing that has haunted me more than anything else is, how could we not have known?” Crawford says. “The more I looked into aneurysms, the more I found that there’s no one out there talking about them, and there’s very little public education about the warning signs.” To help fill that gap in public awareness and education, Crawford started The Lisa Colagrossi Foundation (TLCF).
Last month, TLCF released a survey that found 90% of Americans aren’t sure just what a brain aneurysm is. Also, no one included in the survey could correctly identify all the signs and symptoms of an aneurysm. (Looking to take back control of your health? Prevention has smart answers—get 2 FREE gifts when you subscribe today.)
So just what is a brain aneurysm? It’s a weakness in the wall of one of your brain’s blood vessels, explains Howard Riina, MD, a neurosurgeon with New York University’s Langone Medical Center.
As blood courses through your brain, that weakness allows the wall of the vessel to push outward, forming a bulge. (TLCF has a good illustration of what an aneurysm looks like here.) Like an over-inflated balloon, that bulge can rupture, which allows blood to leak out into the surrounding brain tissue, Riina says.
“Until a rupture or leak occurs, many people are walking around with an aneurysm and don’t know it,” he explains. How many? “Some data we have suggest 6% to 9% of the population have one.”
But many aneurysms don’t rupture, and so a lot of us never realize we have one, Riina says. Even if an MRI or other imaging scan stumbles onto an aneurysm, “We don’t even recommend treatment unless it’s is above a certain size, or a person has a family history of ruptured aneurysms,” he says.