A new study published this week from The Netherlands states that having sex, blowing your nose or even drinking coffee can temporarily raise your risk of rupturing a brain aneurysm and suffering a stroke. Little is known about activities that trigger rupture of an intracranial aneurysm. Knowledge on what triggers aneurysmal rupture increases insight into the pathophysiology and facilitates development of prevention strategies.

Dutch researchers identified eight main triggers that appear to increase the risk of intracranial aneurysm, a weakness in the wall of a brain blood vessel that often causes it to balloon. If it ruptures, it can result in a subarachnoid hemorrhage which is a stroke caused by bleeding at the base of the brain.

Monique H.M. Vlak, M.D., lead author of the study and a neurologist at the University Medical Center in Utrecht, the Netherlands explains:

“All of the triggers induce a sudden and short increase in blood pressure, which seems a possible common cause for aneurysmal rupture. Subarachnoid hemorrhage caused by the rupture of an intracranial aneurysm is a devastating event that often affects young adults. These trigger factors we found are superimposed on known risk factors, including female gender, age and hypertension.”

So what do we have to look out for? According to the study published by the American Heart Association, considering the fraction of all subarachnoid hemorrhages that can be attributed to a particular trigger factor, the researchers identified the eight factors and their contribution to the risk as:

  1. Coffee consumption (10.6 percent)
  2. Vigorous physical exercise (7.9 percent)
  3. Nose blowing (5.4 percent)
  4. Sexual intercourse (4.3 percent)
  5. Straining to defecate (3.6 percent)
  6. Cola consumption (3.5 percent)
  7. Being startled (2.7 percent)
  8. Being angry (1.3 percent)

The research asked 250 patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage to complete a questionnaire about exposure to 30 potential trigger factors in the period shortly before their event and their usual frequency and intensity of exposure to these triggers. They then assessed relative risk using a case-crossover design that determines if a specific event was triggered by something that happened just before it.

Vlak continues:

“Reducing caffeine consumption or treating constipated patients with unruptured IAs with laxatives may lower the risk of subarachnoid hemorrhage. Whether prescribing antihypertensive drugs to patients with unruptured IAs is beneficial in terms of preventing aneurysmal rupture still needs to be further investigated.”

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, more than 700,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year and about 160,000 of them die. Survivors often face serious disability as a result of the stroke.

Aneurysms may also result from congenital defects, preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries), or head trauma. Cerebral aneurysms occur more commonly in adults than in children but they may occur at any age. They are more common in women than in men, by a ratio of 3 to 2.

Source: The American Heart Association’s Stroke Journal

Written by Sy Kraft