The saddest part of actress Natasha Richardson’s recent death from a skiing accident is that it may well have been prevented.
The condition that took her life was an epidural hematoma (bleeding between the skull and the lining of the brain), which can be corrected in about 90% of patients who receive a brain scan and surgery.
But Richardson, 45, apparently felt “fine” and reportedly declined to go to a hospital immediately after the injury — perhaps due to the so-called “lucid interval.” It was only when she was said to have complained of a severe headache about an hour later that she was transported to a hospital.
That delay may have cost Richardson her life, explains Stephan M. Mayer, MD, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. Chances are that Richardson felt briefly dazed or experienced other more subtle symptoms (see below) before the severe headache. It can take one to two hours for bleeding to generate enough pressure inside the skull to cause sustained symptoms, which can be quickly followed by coma and death.
About 2% of head-injury patients suffer an epidural hematoma — including many of whom think their injuries are minor. Dr. Mayer says to call 911 if a head injury causes…
- A dazed feeling or a momentary lapse of consciousness.
- Any neurological symptoms, such as confusion, lethargy, vision changes or a severe headache.
Most important: Wear a helmet when engaging in any activity with a high risk for head injuries, such as bicycling, skiing, skating or riding a horse or a motorcycle.