Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

Pronounced: sub-a-RACK-noid HEM-o-ridge


Subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) is a type of stroke that happens when a blood vessel breaks. Blood quickly fills the site around the brain and spinal cord. This space has fluid that cushions and protects the brain and spinal cord.

SAH is a threat to life. Emergency care is needed. SAH may raise the pressure around the brain. It can get in the way of how the brain works.

Causes ^

SAH may be caused by:

Risk Factors ^

You risk may be higher with:

Symptoms ^

Symptoms may include:

  • A very sudden, severe headache
  • Seizures
  • Confusion

If you have these symptoms, call for emergency medical services right away. Early care can lower the amount of harm to the brain.

Diagnosis ^

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

The fluid in your spine may need to be tested. This can be done with a lumbar puncture.

Pictures may be taken of the brain and the structures around it. This can be done with:

CT Scan of the Head

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Treatment ^

SAH is a serious problem. You will need to be treated in the intensive care unit. Despite treatment, many people with SAH die.

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Stop the bleeding
  • Limit harm to the brain
  • Reduce the risk of another SAH

Treatment options include:

  • Surgery to place a tube in the blood vessels going to the brain
  • Medicine to help blood flow to the brain
  • Bed rest to prevent more bleeding

Once you are stable, you will need to be in a rehabilitation program.

Prevention ^

Aneurysms present from birth can’t be prevented. Because they are so rare, doctors don’t advise screening for them. If an unruptured aneurysm is found by chance in a young person, the doctor may do surgery.

To lower your chance of SAH:

  • Avoid smoking.
  • Control high blood pressure.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

The Brain Aneurysm Foundation

National Stroke Association


Brain Injury Canada

Heart & Stroke Foundation


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Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD  Last Updated: 6/25/2018