Emilia Clarke has opened up about her private health struggle with brain aneurysms.
The “Game of Thrones” star penned an essay for The New Yorker, detailing her multiple brain surgeries to treat two life-threatening subarachnoid hemorrhages. Her revealing her health issues coincides with the launch of Same You, a charity Clarke helped develop to raise awareness and access to resources for young people suffering from brain injury and stroke.
In the incredibly vulnerable essay, Clarke revealed how she first experienced a brain aneurysm in 2011 when she was only 24. Filming for the first season of her hit HBO show had just wrapped when Clarke was hit with a massive headache during a work-out that caused her to become violently ill.
“I’d had an aneurysm, an arterial rupture. As I later learned, about a third of SAH patients die immediately or soon thereafter,” she wrote. “For the patients who do survive, urgent treatment is required to seal off the aneurysm, as there is a very high risk of a second, often fatal bleed. If I was to live and avoid terrible deficits, I would have to have urgent surgery. And, even then, there were no guarantees.”
After surgery, Clarke said she experienced “unbearable pain” coupled with aphasia, the brain’s response to trauma that caused her to forget her own name and compromised her speech.
During surgery, doctors spotted a second potential aneurysm. In 2013, a routine brain scan revealed that the aneurysm had doubled in size, and required immediate surgery.
“When they woke me, I was screaming in pain. The procedure had failed. I had a massive bleed and the doctors made it plain that my chances of surviving were precarious if they didn’t operate again. This time they needed to access my brain in the old-fashioned way—through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately,” she recalled.
After a second surgery and a month at hospital, Clarke suffered from anxiety and panic attacks during her recovery. Now, she hopes her story will help young people learn about living with and treating brain trauma.
“I’m telling you the truth in full. Please believe me: I know that I am hardly unique, hardly alone,” Clarke said. “Countless people have suffered far worse, and with nothing like the care I was so lucky to receive.”
What is a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH)?
SAH is a form of stroke caused by bleeding on the surface of the brain. Although uncommon, SAH is a serious condition that often has no warning signs, and can prove fatal.
Symptoms of SAH include intense sudden headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light as well as nausea or vomiting.
Like strokes, SAH often cause slurred speech and weakness on one side of the body. Other symptoms include loss of consciousness, uncontrollable shaking and blurred or double vision.
According to the National Health Service (NHS), SAH can often occur during physical activity. Although most people would think this means during an intense work-out, they can occur during everything from coughing, straining, using the bathroom or lifting heavy objects.
Who is at risk?
Although they can occur at anytime to anyone due to a burst blood vessel (aneurysm), people who smoke, consume excessive alcohol or have high blood pressure are at an increased risk of SAH.