Ex-NBA Commissioner David Stern's brain hemorrhage highlights common, dangerous condition

Brain hemorrhages like the one suffered by former NBA Commissioner David Stern have a high fatality rate, can be debilitating for those who do survive and can happen to anyone.

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About 50 percent of people who suffer a spontaneous intracerebral hemorrhage will not survive 30 days, neurosurgeon Dr. Paul Saphier told FOX Business. An intracerebral hemorrhage is the type of hemorrhagic stroke in which bleeding occurs in the actual substance of the brain. While Saphier is not involved in Stern’s treatment, he said it sounds like that’s the type of brain hemorrhage Stern, 77, suffered based on what’s been reported.

“You’re talking about a very disabling and very life-threatening condition,” Saphier said.

In this Wednesday, May 15, 2013 file photo, NBA Commissioner David Stern takes a question from a reporter during a news conference following an NBA Board of Governors meeting in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File)

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It’s the most common form of hemorrhagic stroke, affecting more than 80,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to Saphier. It’s also one of the most challenging. Of those patients who do survive a month, about two-thirds will not return to independent living or normal daily function, he said.

The condition is usually related to high blood pressure.

“It’s an effect of decades of borderline high blood pressure that, over time, compromises the integrity of the little blood vessels inside the brain, and ultimately they can burst, or rupture,” Saphier said.

Brain hemorrhages are most common in people between 40 and 60 years in age, but Saphier said they can happen to anyone.

“It’s not just older people that have hemorrhages in the brain,” he said. “It can happen to anyone. Even kids can have brain hemorrhages. So it’s important to recognize the warning signs.”

Those warning signs include severe headaches, disorientation, weakness or numbness on one side of the body, inability to speak, loss of consciousness, severe nausea and vomiting, according to the doctor.

“That’s a 911 telephone call, that’s not a ‘take two aspirin and go to bed’ kind of thing,” he said.

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Current NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced on Thursday that Stern had suffered a brain hemorrhage and had undergone emergency surgery. Stern suffered the hemorrhage at a Manhattan restaurant and had the operation at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital, The Associated Press reported.

Despite the dire statistics, that may be a good sign, according to Saphier. He said the hospital’s doctors are among those trying new, minimally invasive procedures to treat brain hemorrhages. The treatments are still the subject of clinical trials, but Saphier said that, anecdotally, they do seem to improve a patient’s odds of recovering.

Recovery from a brain hemorrhage is a long process that requires physical, occupational and cognitive therapies, according to Saphier.

“What I tell all of my patients’ family members is, for this type of hemorrhage, we don’t really look at recovery in terms of days to weeks, but rather in months,” he said. “Usually we’re looking at a minimum of several months to see how someone improves.”

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