TUESDAY, APRIL 27, 2010 (Health.com) — On April 22, hair-band front man turned reality TV star Bret Michaels was rushed to the hospital with an excruciating headache. Doctors discovered that Michaels had suffered a brain hemorrhage—a type of stroke—but they haven’t yet pinpointed the source of the bleeding. The Celebrity Apprentice contestant remains in the intensive care unit under 24-hour surveillance, according to a statement posted Monday on Michaels’s website.
Michaels, 47, who led the band Poison in the ‘80s and ‘90s, has had diabetes since he was 6 years old, and had undergone an emergency appendectomy less than two weeks before his current hospitalization. It’s unclear whether either condition was related to the hemorrhage.
To learn more about the type of hemorrhage Michaels experienced, Health.com spoke with Michael Lawton, MD, the chief of vascular neurosurgery at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. Dr. Lawton has never treated Michaels and does not have access to his medical records, but he has treated hundreds of similar cases.
Q: What type of brain hemorrhage did Bret Michaels have?
A: Mr. Michaels had what’s called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, or bleeding into the space between the brain and the membranes surrounding it.
Q: Is that the same thing as a stroke?
A: Yes. Most strokes—about 85%—occur when a clot or some other obstruction blocks blood flow to (or within) the brain; these are known as ischemic strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes represent 15% of strokes, and are caused by bleeding within the brain. Subarachnoid hemorrhage is one type of hemorrhagic stroke.
Q: What causes this type of bleeding?
A: Nine out of 10 subarachnoid hemorrhages are due to a ruptured aneurysm. Aneurysms are bulges or weak areas in an artery, and people may have them for years with no symptoms. Typically, once a subarachnoid hemorrhage is diagnosed, a patient will have a test called an angiogram to look for an aneurysm. When doctors can’t find the source of the bleeding, it usually means that it’s not an aneurysm, or it’s a very small one that’s difficult to see.
In the remaining 10% of cases, the cause may be a leaky vein or small artery.
Q: What are the symptoms of a brain hemorrhage?
A: Typically, patients will have a very severe headache—what they describe as the worst headache of their life. Mr. Michaels’s presentation is fairly typical for subarachnoid hemorrhage. Some people will fall into a coma.
Next page: How are subarachnoid hemorrhages treated?