Bob Saget Died of ‘Head Trauma’: Here’s How to Be Safe After a Head Injury
Fans were stunned last month when news broke that comedian Bob Saget was found dead in his Florida hotel room. The 65-year-old Full House alum’s cause of death wasn’t available immediately, but his family just revealed information from the coroner’s report.
“The authorities have determined that Bob passed from head trauma. They have concluded that he accidentally hit the back of his head on something, thought nothing of it and went to sleep,” Saget’s family said in a statement to CNN. “No drugs or alcohol were involved.”
The statement continued, “Now that we have the final conclusions from the authorities’ investigation, we felt it only proper that the fans hear those conclusions directly from us. As we continue to mourn together, we ask everyone to remember the love and laughter that Bob brought to this world, and the lessons he taught us all: to be kind to everyone, to let the people you love know you love them, and to face difficult times with hugs and laughter.”
Plenty of people now have questions about what to do after hitting your head—including when it’s safe to go to sleep after hitting your head—and fair. Here’s what you need to know.
How can someone die after hitting their head?
Head trauma can cause bleeding in the head and brain, and that’s usually what can lead to someone’s death, says Justin Johnson, M.D., an emergency medicine physician and critical care expert at Mercy Medical Center’s Emergency Department in Baltimore, Maryland. “The bleeding usually causes compression of vital areas of the brain and the nerves responsible for automatic functions of breathing and the heart,” he says. “Without those, people cannot live.”
Garni Barkhoudarian, M.D., a neurosurgeon and associate professor of neuroscience and neurosurgery at the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., says that a subdural hematoma, which is a buildup of blood on the surface of the brain, is “the most common thing we see" when it comes to serious head injuries that can lead to death. That's especially true for people in their 60s and older, he says. "Those blood vessels that connect the brain to the skull are a little more frail and prone to injury in older people,” he says.
How can you know if you’re OK after hitting your head?
This can be “a challenge,” says Amit Sachdev, M.D., medical director in the department of neurology at Michigan State University. He adds, “Factors such as the nature of the injury, the height from which is was sustained, the presence of an injury to the scalp, and the presence of neurologic symptoms all make a difference.”
Dr. Johnson agrees. “It's difficult to say if the head trauma is nothing to worry about,” he says. He also notes that the sides of the head have the thinnest bone and the back of your head covers “vital structures”—getting hit in either of those spots should raise concern.
There’s a wide range of potential head injuries that can happen as a result of getting hit in the head, spanning from getting a bump or bruise to developing internal bleeding and brain damage, Johns Hopkins Medicine points out.
There are a lot of different symptoms you can experience after developing a head injury. Johns Hopkins Medicine lists the following as potential issues after a mild head injury:
Symptoms of a head injury can show up right away or they can develop slowly over several hours or days, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. There’s also this to consider: A person’s head may look fine, but they could have bleeding or swelling inside the skull.
When is it safe to go to sleep after hitting your head?
This is also “very hard to tell,” Dr. Sachdev says. “The key question is, ‘Why are you going to sleep and would it be normal to go to sleep at this time of day?’” he says. “If the answer is “no,” then you need to consider if sleepiness is a neurologic symptom.”
If you had a significant head trauma, you’re older than 65 or younger than 18, you lost consciousness after your injury, or you use blood thinners, Dr. Johnson recommends getting checked out before you go to bed. “Not going to sleep before the evaluation is recommended in those situations,” he says. But, he points out, if you’re just not feeling right after getting hit in the head, it’s also a good idea to get yourself checked before conking out.
Keep in mind, though, that there’s nothing about sleep in particular that would make your head injury worse—it’s just that you may not realize your symptoms are getting worse when you're asleep, says Daniel Bachmann, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “You can have a bad outcome regardless,” he says. “It’s not like sleep specifically is what ends up causing the problem.”
If it’s a normal bedtime, you think you’re OK, and you’re ready for sleep, Dr. Sachdev recommends having someone check on you and your breathing during the night, if possible. “In the hospital with severe head injuries, we do neurologic checks frequently,” he points out.
When to see a doctor after hitting your head
The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends getting medical attention right away if someone develops these symptoms:
Becomes very sleepy
Behaves abnormally, or has speech that does not make sense
Develops a severe headache or stiff neck
Has a seizure
Has pupils—the dark central part of the eye—of unequal sizes
Is unable to move an arm or leg
Loses consciousness, even briefly
Vomits more than once
But Dr. Sachdev says it’s important to get checked out if you’re unsure. “There is no level of concern that is too low or silly,” he says.
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