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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.


SAH may be caused by:

Risk Factors

You risk may be higher with:


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.


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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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.


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  http://www.bafound.org 

National Stroke Association  http://www.stroke.org 


Brain Injury Canada  http://braininjurycanada.ca 

Heart & Stroke Foundation  http://www.heartandstroke.com 


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Stroke rehabilitation. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T580145/Stroke-rehabilitation  . Updated March 23, 2018. Accessed June 25, 2018.

Suarez JI, Tarr RW, Selman WR. Aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage. N Engl J Med. 2006;354(4):387-396.

Subarachnoid hemorrhage. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116453/Subarachnoid-hemorrhage  . Updated June 6, 2018. Accessed June 25, 2018.

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Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Rimas Lukas, MD
  • Review Date: 05/2018
  • Update Date: 06/25/2018