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Bob Saget's death shows the danger of head injuries. Here's what you should know

The sudden death of actor and comedian Bob Saget last month took fans of all ages by surprise.

According to his family, the 65-year-old actor and comedian "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 coroner's report.

Saget had "fractures to the back of his head and around his eyes" at the time of his death, according to an autopsy report from the Orange County, Fla., medical examiner obtained by People. Saget was also COVID-19 positive at the time of his death, the autopsy noted.

While details of how exactly Saget hit his head were not released, doctors stress the importance of seeking medical care immediately if you sustain a head or brain injury.

"If you are concerned that you may have a head injury, consider getting yourself checked out," said Dr. Amit Sachdev, medical director in the department of neurology at Michigan State University.

"Unfortunately, it's all too common and we in neurology see it quite frequently that head injuries lead to bleeding," said Sachdev.

Head injuries are more common than you think

Medical experts say head injuries are very common. Dr. Joshua Marcus, a neurologist specializing in the surgical treatment of brain and spine conditions at Nuvance Health in western Connecticut, said they're responsible for millions of emergency room visits in the U.S. each year.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2018, more than 220,000 people in the U.S. suffered from traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and more than 60,000 TBI-related deaths were reported in 2019. That's about 165 TBI-related deaths each day.

Those 75 and older had the highest numbers and rates of TBI-related hospitalizations and deaths, accounting for about 32% of TBI-related hospitalizations and 28% of TBI-related deaths, according to the CDC.

However, most head injuries are pretty mild, experts say.

"[The injuries] don't result in serious bleeding on or around the brain and don't result in any significant neurologic injury. And very rarely result in a catastrophe," Marcus said.

The symptoms vary depending on the injury severity

There are a variety of injuries that can happen as a result of experiencing head trauma. They can be mild, such as a bump, a bruise or a cut in the head, according to experts at Johns Hopkins University. Or the injury can be more severe, like a concussion, a deep cut, an open wound, or fractured bones in the skull.

But no matter the injury, there are different symptoms you should look out for after sustaining a head injury.

For mild injuries, individuals could experience symptoms such as sensitivity to noise and light, confusion, fatigue, irritability, a raised or swollen area from a bump or nausea, Sachdev said.

Those with more moderate to severe injuries may experience symptoms such as loss of consciousness, a severe headache lasting for days, repeated nausea and vomiting along with seizures, and more.

Long-term effects can occur if left untreated

Both Sachdev and Marcus urge that if you experience any symptoms after hitting your head that you seek medical care immediately — as untreated head or brain injuries can have long-term effects.

"If repeated head traumas occur, the side effects and complications can mount. But even in the short term from just one injury, you can have long-term effects like concentration trouble, visual difficulty, blurry vision," Marcus said.

In addition, any untreated head trauma can turn fatal due to the possibility of ongoing bleeding or swelling due to increased pressure in the brain, he added.

Overall, experts say it's better to be safe than sorry when it comes to injuries involving the head — emphasizing that in most cases patients will be all right.

"There's no level of concern that's too ridiculous. If you're concerned, go seek care," Sachdev said.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.