Debilitating headaches leads to shocking diagnosis for 23-year-old woman

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A headache is uncomfortable at best, but if you've ever had a migraine, you know the pain can be debilitating. Cassidy Kraus described the pain as blinding, and constant. She knew something wasn't right, but she was only in her 20s, so how bad could things be?

"I felt like a ticking time bomb a little bit," Kraus said.

The 23-year-old knew something wasn't right after suffering a concussion following a car accident three years ago. Doctors said she could expect some headaches, but nothing like this.

"I would kind of lose vision in my left eye and it would get blurry and I would get double eyed. It was just really odd. They were like, a really quick onset pain. They didn't gradually build. They were just there and they stayed and they were absolutely debilitating," Kraus said.

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Headaches leads to shocking diagnosis for 23-year-old woman
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Headaches leads to shocking diagnosis for 23-year-old woman
A 23-year-old woman who lived with debilitating headaches years after a concussion was stunned when an aneurysm behind her left eye.
A 23-year-old woman who lived with debilitating headaches years after a concussion was stunned when an aneurysm behind her left eye.
A 23-year-old woman who lived with debilitating headaches years after a concussion was stunned when an aneurysm behind her left eye.
A 23-year-old woman who lived with debilitating headaches years after a concussion was stunned when an aneurysm behind her left eye.
A 23-year-old woman who lived with debilitating headaches years after a concussion was stunned when an aneurysm behind her left eye.
A 23-year-old woman who lived with debilitating headaches years after a concussion was stunned when an aneurysm behind her left eye.
A 23-year-old woman who lived with debilitating headaches years after a concussion was stunned when an aneurysm behind her left eye.
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Her doctor at the time did a brain scan and found nothing. She figured she was still healing and a little rest and over-the-counter medication might help.

It didn't.

"It's like a sharp pain. I used to say, this sounds really morbid, but it was kind of like, I've never been shot, but like you were getting shot in the head," Kraus said.

Desperate for some relief, she decided to get a second opinion, and went to Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

"She had what was called 'Thunder Clap' headaches. She gets headaches that are coming out of no place, that are horribly severe, only last a brief period of time -- but she'll black out with them," Dr. Frederick Freitag said.

"I said 'this isn't getting any better. I'm really miserable.' And he said, 'you know what? Let's run some scans and see what happens,'" Kraus said.

What the scan found was something she never expected.

Related: Identify a stroke

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How to identify a stroke
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How to identify a stroke

Use the "F.A.S.T." Method

If someone you know is having a stroke, it’s imperative to identify it as quickly as possible so that you can get them the help they need.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to a certain area of the brain is cut off, which can result in a loss of memory, muscle control, or motor skills.

This manifests itself with a very specific set of symptoms, which you can identify by remembering the acronym F.A.S.T.

“F” — Facial Drooping

If you are assuming someone is having a stroke, observe their face.

When blood is cut off from a part of the brain, the cells that need constant oxygen can get damaged or die. This means that various muscles that are affected by that part cease to work.

So if one side of their face is suddenly drooping, it’s a strong sign that they are having a stroke.

“A” — Arm Weakness

If you want to further determine if someone is having a stroke, ask them to raise both their arms.

Depending on what part of their brain is lacking in blood flow, one arm should be significantly weaker than the other.

This means that they will not be able to raise one arm as high as the other.

“S” — Speech

A stroke can affect a person’s brain in a way that makes them unable to speak properly.

Ask them to speak or repeat a sentence like, “The sky is blue.”

Notice if their speech is slurred or incomprehensible, because this could mean that they have had a “brain attack.”

“T” — Time To Call 911

After you have properly identified these symptoms, it’s time to call 9-1-1.

Stokes are a serious determinant to the brain and every minute it’s left untreated can mean more brain cells lost.

Plus, if ischemic stroke sufferers are treated in the first three hours of having it, they are 30% more likely to make a recovery with little to no repercussions, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

And though having a stroke is extremely serious, there are plenty of ways that you can help lower your risk of having one.

Prevention Method #1: Lower Your Blood Pressure

Since strokes are caused by blood clots that obstruct the body’s blood flow, it’s incredibly important to keep your blood pressure down.

This can be done many different ways, like reducing sodium intake or eating more potassium.

Watching your weight can also ensure that hypertension doesn’t occur in your bloodstream.

Prevention Method #2: Go Out And Get Moving

Another way to keep your blood pressure down, therefore keeping your risk of stroke at bay, is to be active whenever and however you can.

Being active gets your heart beating and blood pumping rapidly around your body, which is what helps banish the chance of hypertension.

It is also a great way to manage a healthy weight so that more health complications don’t arise.

Prevention Method #3: Drink In Moderation

Alcohol has actually been shown to lower your blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm of mercury.

But this can only happen if you enjoy it in moderation.

At the end of the day, your body responds to a healthy balanced diet, so enjoying everything in moderation can help ensure a healthy internal system.

Prevention Method #4: Identify And Manage Depression Symptoms

Being depressed means that you are much more likely to experience a disinterest in being active, possibly turning to drinking and smoking heavily.

These habits heighten your chances of developing hypertension and having a stroke.

So properly identifying if you have depression or not is extremely important to but your mental and physical health. 

Prevention Method #5: Pay Attention To Heart Palpitations

According to Prevention, if you experience heart flutters along with shortness of breath or chest pain, this could also mean you have atrial fibrillation.

This significantly increases your risk of having a stroke since it directly affects your blood flow.

Fortunately it is a very manageable condition when using the right medicines.

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"I'll never forget that. It was December 19th. I remember getting a call. I answered it. It was the radiologist who initially read my scan. He goes 'hey, I need to talk to you. We found an aneurysm in your carotid artery behind your left eye in one of your scans.' I'm on the phone, I'm like shaking. I'm like, 'really?' The feelings just came rushing back. How I felt and being young," Kraus said.

Doctors wanted to operate right away.

"That's when I was like, 'oh wow, this really is serious,'" Kraus said.

She had an "aneurysmial coiling," where a coil was placed at the site of the weakening of the blood vessel wall, otherwise known as an aneurysm.

"So in essence you create a new blood vessel wall, and so the risk is gone," Dr. Freitag said.

Kraus said her recovery was quick. She was in the hospital for less than a week, and before long, she was back to doing the things she loves, like cooking with her boyfriend Brett and playing with their dogs, who are blind.

She said now, her quality of life couldn't be better.

"I have done the best kind of 180. I remember thinking back then 'I'm going to be lucky if I graduate college.' I am 12 credits away from being done and that's a huge accomplishment for me. I've come a long way," Kraus said.

Kraus said she still gets headaches, but they're minor. A headache is a hallmark symptom of an aneurysm. If your headaches change or if they're not responding to medication, that should be a warning sign and you should see a doctor.

As it turned out, Kraus' aneurysm wasn't caused by the crash she was in. Doctors don't know why they develop, but they may be hereditary.

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