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The tragic death of actor Natasha Richardson from an epidural hematoma reminds many of us of the seriousness of a closed head injury. What’s more, the circumstances of the last hours of her life show us the need to be vigilant in our quest to understand (and educate others) on the warning signs of a closed head injury.

According to reports, Natasha Richardson took a "normal" fall while learning to ski. She was up and talking not long after "trained" personnel decided she was fine. However, as we all know, she suffered a closed head injury passed away within days. What is most compelling about the type of injury Ms. Richardson suffered, and 1.5 million Americans suffer every year, is the roller-coaster of symptoms and degree of harm that makes it difficult to distinguish between a bump on the head and life-threatening injury.

With this in mind, it is never too often that we review the symptoms of a closed head injury:

  • Changes in, or unequal size of pupils
  • Convulsions
  • Distorted features of the face
  • Fluid draining from nose, mouth, or ears (may be clear or bloody)
  • Fracture in the skull or face, bruising of the face, swelling at the site of the injury, or scalp wound
  • Impaired hearing, smell, taste, or vision
  • Inability to move one or more limbs
  • Irritability (especially in children), personality changes, or unusual behavior
  • Loss of consciousness, confusion, or drowsiness
  • Low breathing rate or drop in blood pressure
  • Restlessness, clumsiness, or lack of coordination
  • Severe headache
  • Slurred speech or blurred vision
  • Stiff neck or vomiting
  • Symptoms improve, and then suddenly get worse (change in consciousness)

As a general rule, doctors say that any head injury should be treated within an hour of the time it occurs. This is referred to as the "golden hour". It is undisputed that the sooner a brain injury is recognized and treated, the better the odds of recovery. In some cases, hospitalization and drugs can resolve a brain injury problem, if the symptoms are recognized and prompt action is taken.

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