Bethany’s Story: Constant Headaches Lead to Brain Aneurysm Diagnosis

At 35, Bethany Sterling got a diagnosis she never expected: brain aneurysm.

In the time since, Bethany has recovered and is leading a full life, thanks to care from her Premier Health doctor. It took time for Bethany to get the right diagnosis. That’s why she’s sharing her story, to encourage others to advocate for their health if something doesn’t feel right.

Bethany’s symptoms began in early 2015, when she started having many headaches – headaches that she felt were unusual compared to the migraines she was diagnosed with in 2007.

“The headache that I was experiencing with these symptoms was a constant headache – whether it was very mild or a lot worse,” says Bethany.

She says she would wake up in the morning with the same headache she had gone to bed with.

“It was there 24/7. It moved around my head in different areas,” Sterling says. “It was a really weird headache.”

Searching For a Diagnosis

Bethany felt sure the headaches were not migraines because her migraine medications did not make them stop.

The continuous headaches made Bethany feel bad all over her body – all day, every day. Then in March 2015, visual disturbances began to appear.

“My vision would go blurry. I'd be walking down the hallway at work, and all of a sudden, my vision would not go completely out, but just blurry,” she says. “I would wait for a little bit – kind of blink my eyes – and it would go away.”

Bethany works as a public health instructor at the United States Air Force School of Air Space Medicine. She says that at first, she couldn't tell if one or both eyes were affected. She knew her symptoms weren't normal, but she wasn't sure what was causing them.

Near the end of April 2015, Bethany began seeing her primary care doctor about the headaches and vision problems.

“I literally told her, 'I feel off in my head,'” Bethany says, adding that her doctor thought migraines might have been the cause. She felt otherwise and told her doctor this was different.

“(I told her) this feels really weird. It doesn't feel like a migraine,” Bethany says. “Something's different. I feel awful every single day. The headache never goes away.'"

Bethany started seeing her primary care doctor weekly because she knew something wasn't right and she was determined to play an active role in her own health care.

Her doctor ordered a CT scan, but the results came back normal.

Bethany tried her best to continue to do her job and go about her home life with husband, Quinton; stepson Jacobi, 14; and daughter, Mia, 6. But the ongoing headaches and vision problems were taking a toll.

A Lifesaving Emergency Room Visit

On May 27, 2015, Bethany’s symptoms got worse. She went to work, but her right eye was drooping.

“My supervisor asked me what was wrong. I told her that in addition to the symptoms that I was having, I noticed this eye drooping, especially when pictures were taken of me,” Bethany says. “We both agreed that I needed to go to the emergency room.”

Once Bethany was at the ER, doctors performed another CT scan. This time, they found a large mass behind her right eye.

A neurologist evaluated her and told Bethany that her eye was bulging and the pressure was causing the drooping. With no neurosurgeon at the first hospital she visited, Bethany was transported to Premier Health’s Miami Valley Hospital.

“Once I got down there, they definitively diagnosed it as a right internal carotid artery aneurysm,” she says. ”I didn't know what it was until I got down there. That's when I first met Dr. Ludwig, who is – to me – a lifesaver.”

Bethany also learned that the aneurysm was present a month earlier when she had her first CT scan. But it was so incredibly small that it was missed.

“It grew very large in a short amount of time, which is strange,” she says.

Even now, no one can explain exactly why Bethany – who had no risk factors – ended up with a brain aneurysm.

Bryan Ludwig, MD, with the Clinical Neuroscience Institute admitted Bethany to Miami Valley Hospital. Many of her family members came from within a few hours away to see her. Dr. Ludwig was helpful and honest in answering questions she and her family had about surgery and possible risks involved. 

“It was scary, but Dr. Ludwig answered all my questions,” Bethany says. “He really was the one that made me feel confident to go into surgery and come out OK. I had full trust in him.”

Bethany underwent a minimally invasive coil embolization two days after she was admitted to the hospital. In this procedure, Dr. Ludwig threaded a thin catheter through an artery in the leg to the damaged blood vessel in the brain. Platinum coils were placed in the bulging artery to close it off and help a clot form.

Bethany was sent home the next day.

Slow But Steady Recovery

She knew that even after surgery, there was a possibility her symptoms would remain. That concern became all too real when, for the first couple days after surgery, Bethany had a severe headache.

“I felt like my head was going to explode. I couldn't sit up for two days,” she says. “I had double vision, too.”

Dr. Ludwig prescribed an anti-inflammatory to help ease the swelling, which lessened Bethany’s headache. After a week of recovery, the headache was gone, but the double vision and eye drooping remained for about three months.

“I relied completely on my husband to take me everywhere, even to the grocery store to get milk,” Bethany says. “I felt like my independence was taken away. It was affecting my everyday life.”

Bethany’s condition began to improve day by day. Her vision became clearer, the eye swelling went down and the eye drooping stopped. Her only lingering symptom is chronic fatigue, which she manages with a once-daily medication.

“Thank goodness that the aneurysm shrunk enough to kind of get off that nerve, and it resolved everything,” Bethany says. “I was very fortunate to have the swelling go down, and over time my symptoms got better. I was very thankful.”

Advocate For Your Own Health

At an August 2016 follow-up appointment, a small bleed was found with the aneurysm. Bethany underwent a second coiling procedure with no complications or follow-up symptoms.

Bethany continues to follow-up with Dr. Ludwig to monitor her health and check her blood vessels.

While brain aneurysms typically run in families, Bethany’s type of aneurysm is not present in her family medical history. She's also learned that because her aneurysm doesn't seem to be genetic, her daughter is not at an increased risk.

Bethany says she is thankful for the care Dr. Ludwig provided and the time he took to explain things to her and her family. And she’s glad that she kept pushing to find out what was causing her symptoms.

“You know your body better than anybody. That's why I just kept going back to my doctor and saying, 'Something's not right. I know what migraines are, and this is way different,'” Bethany says.

She hopes others are persistent in finding the care they need.

“Don't ignore things like this because you never know,” Bethany says. “I would have never thought that it would have been a brain aneurysm at the age of 35 when I was diagnosed.”

Contact Us

Our specialists are ready to help you get back to the things that matter most in your life. Find a provider near you, call CareFinders at (866) 608-FIND (3463), or consult our list of related practices.

Our specialists are affiliated with: