The classic symptom of subarachnoid hemorrhage is thunderclap headache (a headache described as "like being kicked in the head", or the "worst ever", developing over seconds to minutes). This headache often pulsates towards the occiput (the back of the head). About one-third of people have no symptoms apart from the characteristic headache, and about one in ten people who seek medical care with this symptom are later diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Vomiting may be present, and 1 in 14 have seizures. Confusion, decreased level of consciousness or coma may be present, as may neck stiffness and other signs of meningism.
While thunderclap headache is the characteristic symptom of subarachnoid hemorrhage, less than 10% of those with concerning symptoms have SAH on investigations. A number of other causes may need to be considered.
Most cases of SAH are due to trauma such as a blow to the head. Traumatic SAH usually occurs near the site of a skull fracture or intracerebral contusion. It often happens in the setting of other forms of traumatic brain injury. In these cases prognosis is poorer; however, it is unclear if this is a direct result of the SAH or whether the presence of subarachnoid blood is simply an indicator of a more severe head injury.
Cocaine abuse and sickle cell anemia (usually in children) and, rarely, anticoagulant therapy, problems with blood clotting and pituitary apoplexy can also result in SAH. Dissection of the vertebral artery, usually caused by trauma, can lead to subarachnoid hemorrhage if the dissection involves the part of the vessel inside the skull.
Cerebral vasospasm is one of the complications caused by subarachnoid hemorrhage. It usually happens from the third day after the aneurysm event, and reaches its peak on 5th to 7th day. There are several mechanisms proposed for this complication. Blood products released from subarachnoid hemorrhage stimulates the tyrosine kinase pathway causing the release of calcium ions from intracellular storage, resulting in smooth muscle contraction of cerebral arteries. Oxyhaemoglobin in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) causes vasoconstriction by increasing free radicals, endothelin-1, prostaglandin and reducing the level of nitric oxide and prostacyclin. Besides, the disturbances of autonomic nervous system innervating cerebral arteries is also thought to cause vasospasm.
The initial steps for evaluating a person with a suspected subarachnoid hemorrhage are obtaining a medical history and performing a physical examination. The diagnosis cannot be made on clinical grounds alone and in general medical imaging and possibly a lumbar puncture is required to confirm or exclude bleeding.
After a subarachnoid hemorrhage is confirmed, its origin needs to be determined. If the bleeding is likely to have originated from an aneurysm (as determined by the CT scan appearance), the choice is between cerebral angiography (injecting radiocontrast through a catheter to the brain arteries) and CT angiography (visualizing blood vessels with radiocontrast on a CT scan) to identify aneurysms. Catheter angiography also offers the possibility of coiling an aneurysm (see below).
Lumbar puncture, in which cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is removed from the subarachnoid space of the spinal canal using a hypodermic needle, shows evidence of bleeding in three percent of people in whom a non-contrast CT was found normal. A lumbar puncture or CT scan with contrast is therefore regarded as mandatory in people with suspected SAH when imaging is delayed to after six hours from the onset of symptoms and is negative. At least three tubes of CSF are collected. If an elevated number of red blood cells is present equally in all bottles, this indicates a subarachnoid hemorrhage. If the number of cells decreases per bottle, it is more likely that it is due to damage to a small blood vessel during the procedure (known as a "traumatic tap"). While there is no official cutoff for red blood cells in the CSF no documented cases have occurred at less than "a few hundred cells" per high-powered field.
Also one of the characteristic ECG changes that could be found in patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage, is the J waves or Osborn waves, which are positive deflections that occur at the junction between QRS complexes and ST segments, where the S point, also known as the J point, has a myocardial infarction-like elevation. J waves or Osborn waves, which represent an early repolarization and delayed depolarization of the heart ventricles, are thought to be caused by the high catecholamines surge released in patients with subarachnoid hemorrhage or brain damage, the issue that might lead to ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest in unmanaged patients.
Screening for aneurysms is not performed on a population level; because they are relatively rare, it would not be cost-effective. However, if someone has two or more first-degree relatives who have had an aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage, screening may be worthwhile.
An aneurysm may be detected incidentally on brain imaging; this presents a conundrum, as all treatments for cerebral aneurysms are associated with potential complications. The International Study of Unruptured Intracranial Aneurysms (ISUIA) provided prognostic data both in people having previously had a subarachnoid hemorrhage and people who had aneurysms detected by other means. Those having previously had a SAH were more likely to bleed from other aneurysms. In contrast, those having never bled and had small aneurysms (smaller than 10 mm) were very unlikely to have a SAH and were likely to sustain harm from attempts to repair these aneurysms. On the basis of the ISUIA and other studies, it is now recommended that people are considered for preventive treatment only if they have a reasonable life expectancy and have aneurysms that are highly likely to rupture. Moreover, there is only limited evidence that endovascular treatment of unruptured aneurysms is actually beneficial.
People with poor clinical grade on admission, acute neurologic deterioration, or progressive enlargement of ventricles on CT scan are, in general, indications for the placement of an external ventricular drain by a neurosurgeon. The external ventricular drain may be inserted at the bedside or in the operating room. In either case, strict aseptic technique must be maintained during insertion. In people with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage the EVD is used to remove cerebrospinal fluid, blood, and blood byproducts that increase intracranial pressure and may increase the risk for cerebral vasospasm.
The pathogenesis of cerebral vasospasm following subarachnoid hemorrhage is attributed to the higher levels of endothelin 1, a potent vasoconstrictor, and the lower levels of endothelial NOS (eNOS), a potent vasodilator. Both of which are produced from a series of events that begin from the inflammatory reaction caused by the products released from erythrocytes' degradation. Following subarachnoid hemorrhage, different clotting factors and blood products are released into the surrounding perivascular spaces known as (Virchow-Robin spaces). The released clotting factors like; fibrinopeptides, thromboxane A2 and others lead to microthrombosis around near vessels that leads to extrinsic vasoconstriction of these vessels. Besides that extrinsic vasoconstriction, the erythrocytes' degradation products like; bilirubin and oxyhemoglobin lead to neuroinflammation that in turn increases the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) which increases and decreases the production of endothelin 1 and endothelial NOS, respectively, the issue that yields in intrinsic vasoconstriction of the neighboring blood vessels and results in cerebral ischemia if left untreated.
The use of calcium channel blockers, thought to be able to prevent the spasm of blood vessels by preventing calcium from entering smooth muscle cells, has been proposed for prevention. The calcium channel blocker nimodipine when taken by mouth improves outcome if given between the fourth and twenty-first day after the bleeding, even if it does not reduce the amount of vasospasm detected on angiography. It is the only Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drug for treating cerebral vasospasm. In traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage, nimodipine does not affect long-term outcome, and is not recommended. Other calcium channel blockers and magnesium sulfate have been studied, but are not presently recommended; neither is there any evidence that shows benefit if nimodipine is given intravenously.
Nimodipine is readily authorized in the form of tablets and solution for infusion for the prevention and treatment of complications due to vasospasm following subarachnoid hemorrhage. Another sustained formulation of nimodipine administered via an external ventricular drain (EVD), called EG-1962, is also available. In contrast to the tablets and solution formulations of Nimodipine which require an administration every 4hrs for a total of 21 days, the sustained formulation, EG-1962, needs to be administered once directly into the ventricles. The CSF concentrations from EG-1962, however, were at least 2 orders of magnitude higher than those with oral nimodipine. These results supported a phase 3 study that demonstrated a favorable safety profile for EG-1962 but yielded inconclusive efficacy results due to notable differences in clinical outcome based on baseline disease severity.
So-called "angiogram-negative subarachnoid hemorrhage", SAH that does not show an aneurysm with four-vessel angiography, carries a better prognosis than SAH with aneurysm, but it is still associated with a risk of ischemia, rebleeding, and hydrocephalus. Perimesencephalic SAH (bleeding around the mesencephalon in the brain), however, has a very low rate of rebleeding or delayed ischemia, and the prognosis of this subtype is excellent. 2b1af7f3a8