Emilia Clarke stars in one of television’s most popular dramas, but she has experienced some real life drama of her own at a relatively young age.
The 32-year-old actress, known for playing Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, recently revealed that she’s survived two life-threatening brain aneurysms.
She detailed those harrowing moments in an essay for The New Yorker.
In the article, Clarke explained how she experienced her first aneurysm in 2011 at 24 years of age, shortly after filming season one of the HBO drama.
Clarke recalls feeling as though an elastic band were squeezing in her brain, which was coupled with intense pain and sudden spells of vomiting.
She immediately underwent surgery for a subarachnoid hemorrhage — also known as “bleeding in the brain.”
Two weeks later, Clarke was informed that she had a smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain that could rupture at any moment.
Two years after that, she underwent a second emergency surgery when doctors noticed the aneurysm had doubled in size.
Although Clarke’s road to recovery has been long and difficult, the actress has fully recovered.
Now, after beating the odds, she’s started a charity — called SameYou — in hopes of helping others recovering from brain injuries and strokes.
While it may seem surprising that Clarke — who is young and seemingly healthy — suffered from this ailment, aneurysms are most common in adults between the ages of 30 to 60 and are more prevalent in women than in men.
Researchers haven’t pinned down why aneurysms are more common in women. Some suspect that it may be related to a decline or deficiency in estrogen, according to Dr. Marc D. Moisi, a neurosurgeon at DMC’s Detroit Receiving Hospital.
However, this is more so the case with postmenopausal women, suggests. Health experts suspect Clarke likely had a genetic predisposition.
“It is rather uncommon that a young healthy woman can have an aneurysm, but not unheard of. She may have a genetic familial component or an underlying vascular problem that was not a problem or previously undiagnosed,” Moisi told Healthline.
Still, brain aneurysms can occur in anyone at any age, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states.
In addition to heredity, other causes include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, head trauma, and atherosclerosis — a disease in which plaque builds up in the arteries.
About 20 percent of people who are diagnosed with an aneurysm will have multiple aneurysms — as was the case with Clarke.
Throughout our brain there’s a network of arteries that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
An aneurysm occurs when an artery’s wall weakens and develops a bulge. This bulge can break open and cause dangerous internal bleeding.
“If any little spot of the arteries wall is thin, a bubble can form that is vulnerable to popping. Medically, we call these arterial bubbles aneurysms — and if they pop we call that a rupture,” explains Dr. Rahul Jandial, a dual-trained brain surgeon and neuroscientist at City of Hope in Los Angeles and author of Neurofitness.
Most of the time, people don’t know they have a brain aneurysm until it bursts.
A sudden, severe headache — known as a “thunderclap headache” — is the key symptom involved with a ruptured aneurysm. Similarly to Clarke, many will also experience nausea and vomiting. Confusion, sensitivity to light, and blurred or double vision are common symptoms as well.
A ruptured brain aneurysm can be deadly, Jandial told Healthline. Approximately 40 percent are fatal.
Treatment varies and depends on the location, size, and shape of the ruptured aneurysm.
One option is through an endovascular approach, which was the first procedure Clarke went through. This involves going through an artery in either the groin or hand and sealing off the affected area with coils.
Some aneurysms require a more invasive open surgery, called a craniotomy or surgical clipping. During this procedure, a neurosurgeon removes a section of the skull and places a metal clip at the base of the aneurysm to stop blood flow to the area. This is the second type of surgery Clarke received.
These procedures can also be used to treat an unruptured aneurysm before a bleed ever occurs.
“Patients with aneurysms that are treated after they bleed have a longer recovery than those who are treated electively. Certain aneurysms may be treated electively to prevent them from bleeding in the future,” noted Dr. Jeremy Heit, a neurointerventional radiologist at Stanford Health Care in California.
It can take months or even years for aneurysm survivors to start feeling normal again, Heit told Healthline.
Approximately 66 percent of ruptured aneurysms can cause permanent neurological damage, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation.
In fact, previous research found that ruptured aneurysms can have a lasting impact on survivors’ quality of life — and impair their mobility, self-care, and normal activities as well as cause anxiety and depression.
“Many are devastated and some survive. Even fewer get back to their original selves. The Game of Thrones actress beat the odds,” says Jandial.
If aneurysms run in your family, it’s worth getting brain imaging to determine if you may have one. Additionally, if you ever experience a severe, sudden headache — often described as “the worst headache of your life” — it’s crucial to seek medical care immediately.
When it comes to brain aneurysms, diagnosing and treating it immediately maximizes your chances of making a full recovery.
Game of Thrones actress Emilia Clarke has written an essay about how she’s suffered from two life threatening brain aneurysms.
Clarke hopes to help others recovering from traumatic brain injuries with the launch of her new charity — SameYou.
Aneurysms occur when an artery wall near the brain weakens and forms a bulge. This condition can become deadly if that artery ruptures.
The key symptom of an aneurysm is a sudden and painful, intense headache.
People who suffer an aneurysm need medical attention as soon as possible.