What is the difference between an embolism and an aneurysm?

With the sudden death of Martha Stewart’s youngest sister from a ruptured brain aneurysm, and the tragic loss locally of a young 17-year old from a pulmonary embolism, there has been some confusion between the two terms. They are not the same thing.

According to Dr. Mark Hoepfner on healthtap.com:

“In general, in any location of the body, an aneurysm is a weakness in the wall of the artery resulting in a ballooning or enlargement of that portion of the artery, and not necessarily a blockage of the artery.

An embolism would be a blood clot that forms and travels to the inside of a blood vessel causing an internal blockage of the vessel.”

If a large blood clot (embolism) blocks an artery, blood flow may be completely stopped, causing sudden death.

A ruptured aneurysm releases blood into the spaces around the brain, called a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). SAH is life threatening with a 50% risk of death. Blood in the subarachnoid space increases pressure on the brain. At the same time, the area of brain that previously received oxygen-rich blood from the affected artery is now deprived of blood, resulting in a stroke.

With the two terms sounding so much alike, I can understand how people can get the two confused. Sadly, they can both result in sudden death. It is disconcerting that when news reports discuss a cause of death from either of these issues, they choose not to explain what they are or how they are diagnosed, treated, or any risk factors that may cause them. Knowledge is power and it could save a life.