USMLE® Step 1 style questions USMLE
A 35-year-old man is brought to the emergency department for evaluation of sudden-onset, severe headache. An hour ago, the patient was cooking dinner when he suddenly experienced a diffuse, excruciating headache. The patient has no significant medical history and takes no medications. Temperature is 37.0°C (98.6°F), pulse is 106/min, and blood pressure is 155/95 mmHg. The patient appears uncomfortable and in pain, but physical examination is otherwise within normal limits. A non-contrast CT scan is obtained and is noncontributory. A lumbar puncture is subsequently performed and yields straw-colored cerebrospinal fluid, and the patient is admitted to the neurosurgery service for management. On the 4th day of hospitalization, the patient suddenly experiences right hand weakness and difficulty speaking. Which of the following is the most likely etiology of this patient’s new onset symptoms?
Hemorrhagic strokes can be further split into two types, an intracerebral hemorrhage which is when bleeding occurs within the cerebrum, and a subarachnoid hemorrhage which is when bleeding occurs between the pia mater and arachnoid mater of the meninges - the inner and middle layers that wrap around the brain.
We’ll focus on subarachnoid hemorrhage, which can quickly lead to death if they’re left untreated.
Ok - let’s start with three protective layers of the brain called meninges.
CSF is a clear, watery liquid which is pumped around the spinal cord and brain, cushioning them from impact and bathing them in nutrients.
This space is also where the arteries that supplies the brain travel, and it is the location of the blood brain barrier where CSF and the vascular system can exchange nutrients.
The brain has a few regions - the most obvious is the cerebrum, which is divided into two cerebral hemispheres, each of which has a cortex - an outer region - divided into four lobes including the frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and the occipital lobe.
The frontal lobe controls movement, and executive function, which is our ability to make decisions.
The parietal lobe processes sensory information, which lets us locate exactly where we are physically and guides movements in a three-dimensional space.
Finally, there’s the occipital lobe which is primarily responsible for vision.
Within the cortex are deeper structures like the internal capsule, which is like a highway that allows information to flow through neurons that are going to and from the cerebral cortex.
The cerebellum also helps with muscle coordination and balance.
Each of the internal carotid arteries also give off branches called the anterior cerebral arteries which serve the medial portion of the frontal and parietal lobes and connect with one another with a short little connecting blood vessel called the anterior communicating artery.
So together, the main arteries and the communicating arteries complete what’s called the Circle of Willis - a ring where blood can circulate from one side to the other in case of a blockage.
Three things can cause a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
The first and most common cause of subarachnoid hemorrhages is aneurysms, which is when a blood vessel has weak walls and starts to bulge out to about one and a half times larger than its normal diameter.
- "Robbins Basic Pathology" Elsevier (2017)
- "Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, Twentieth Edition (Vol.1 & Vol.2)" McGraw-Hill Education / Medical (2018)
- "Pathophysiology of Disease: An Introduction to Clinical Medicine 8E" McGraw-Hill Education / Medical (2018)
- "CURRENT Medical Diagnosis and Treatment 2020" McGraw-Hill Education / Medical (2019)
- "NEUROwords Dr. Thomas Willis’ Famous Eponym: The Circle of Willis" Journal of the History of the Neurosciences (2005)
- "Cerebral Aneurysms" New England Journal of Medicine (2006)
- "Subarachnoid Hemorrhage" Emergency Medicine Clinics of North America (2016)