This Woman Suffered From Benign Headaches for Years—Then a CT Scan Revealed Something Deadly

When a California-based woman was admitted to hospital with extreme headaches and nausea, her doctors suspected she had the flu—until a CT scan revealed a far scarier diagnosis.

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What’s Wrong with Me?

The patient: Victoria, 26, a social-work student at the University of California, Berkeley

The symptoms: Severe headache and nausea

The doctor: Dr. Steven Hetts, chief of interventional neuroradiology at the UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay in San Francisco

Victoria grew up having headaches but always attributed them to motion sickness (if she was in a car), lack of food (if she had skipped a meal) or high stress. Based on that history, she wasn’t surprised when, during her second day of undergraduate studies in August 2010, her head began to pound.

This headache, however, was unlike any she’d had before; the pain was of the “thunderclap” variety and, shortly after it first came on, the room started spinning. Victoria stumbled across campus, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. “I was sweating and swaying and I was worried people would think I was drunk,” she says.

Finally, she sat down on a curb and threw up. When she got home, she told her family that she was going to take a nap, which had been her strategy for dealing with headaches in the past. She then descended into a dreamlike fog and wouldn’t clearly remember anything after that until three weeks later.

Initially, Victoria stayed in bed at home for three days, and her headaches persisted. Her parents thought she had the flu. She was conscious, but her activity was limited to sleeping, eating toast and answering yes-or-no questions. On the third night, her mother insisted that she go to the hospital and dragged her to the car against her will.

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