What to Do if You Hit Your Head, According to a Neurosurgeon

bob saget

Getty

Bob Saget’s death has become a wake-up call to take head injuries more seriously.

Many of us are still reeling from the sudden death of beloved comedian Bob Saget, who we now know died as a result of “blunt head trauma.”

“The authorities have determined that Bob passed from head trauma,” the Saget family said in a statement earlier this week. “They have concluded that he accidentally hit the back of his head on something, thought nothing of it and went to sleep. No drugs or alcohol were involved.”

According to a report from the Orange County Medical Examiner, obtained by PEOPLE Magazine, Saget had fractures to the back of his head and around his eyes at the time of his death. He had blood buildup between his skull and scalp (known as a subgaleal hemorrhage) and on the surface of his brain (a subdural hematoma), according to PEOPLE. He also had bleeding in the area surrounding his brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage) and posterior scalp abrasions. (According to PEOPLE, the autopsy revealed he was also Covid positive at the time of his death.)

This tragic news has brought renewed attention to brain injuries, which are much more common than you might think. In fact, an estimated 1.5 million Americans suffer a brain injury each year, and it remains a leading cause of death and disability among children and young adults throughout the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Neurosurgeon and professor at the University of Washington medical school Randall Chesnut, M.D., says head injuries aren’t always the result of a dramatic accident like a car wreck — they can be the result of everyday freak accidents, like bumping your head on the cupboard or slipping on some ice. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less serious.

“They’re just not like other kinds of injuries,” Dr. Chesnut tells us. “And I think that’s what the public doesn’t understand: A head injury is a very serious thing, but you can’t think of it like a knee or rib fracture.”

He shares advice below about what to do if you sustain a hit to the head and want to know what to do next.


Don’t dismiss even a simple bump to the head

Dr. Chesnut says an accidental knock on your head can be especially life-threatening compared to other injuries because, if left untreated, it could lead to lifelong disabilities, or even death. It’s scary but true: approximately 2 percent of the population live with a permanent disability that stems from a brain injury. 

“The measure of outcome in brain injury is not just life or death, it’s also disability,” says Dr. Chesnut. “It’s everything from being essentially dead, like vegetative, to being just not the same person.” 

Look out for head trauma symptoms

The most obvious signs of potential head trauma often include a bad headache, double vision, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting. If these symptoms persist, then Dr. Chesnut says to seek professional medical care right away. He also recommends being especially careful about sustaining a blow to your head a second time soon afterward, because that can lead to what’s known as “second impact syndrome.” This rare condition happens when the brain swells rapidly after a person suffers a second concussion, before symptoms from a previous concussion have subsided.

“If you bash your head hard, seek help. Hopefully, you’ll get better and you’ll be fine,” he tells us. “But the secret is, make sure you don’t do it again for a while.”

Some symptoms may be more subtle. That’s why Dr. Chesnut says it’s crucial for you and others to take note of any behavioral changes, which can range from not being able to speak, to not being able to concentrate, to feeling more irritable. 

“It’s a really tragic spectrum because it manifests as sometimes subtle behavioral differences,” he tells us. “Head trauma can be really apparent, like you can’t move to the side or you can’t speak, or it can be much more subtle.” It’s the subtle signs you have to look out for, he says, because there’s often “very little effect” from them, therefore making those injuries easier to ignore.

Take extra precaution if you’re at high-risk

Those who are seniors or on any kind of blood thinners are at a higher risk of bleeding in the brain, and Dr. Chesnut warns that means that even “relatively minor trauma can turn into a potentially major disaster.” 

If these bumps happen when you’re alone, he recommends avoiding going to sleep right away and considering going to the hospital if the injury was especially intense. But he says, at the very least, you should let someone close by know that you hit your head, in case the situation starts to devolve. 

“The trouble with head injuries is that they’re not always dramatic,” he tells us. A hit to the head isn’t something you can see right away — or something you need stitches or a cast for, he points out, “but it’s a bad injury, nonetheless.”


The information provided on this site isn’t intended as medical advice, and shouldn’t replace professional medical treatment. Consult your doctor with any serious health concerns.