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Bob Saget died of head injury after falling, autopsy says. Here’s what to know about head trauma.

An autopsy released Feb. 10 said that actor and comedian Bob Saget's death last month was caused by head trauma. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)
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A month after actor and comedian Bob Saget was found dead in a Florida hotel room, an autopsy report has revealed additional details about the “Full House” star’s death, finding that he died as a result of “blunt head trauma.”

An official statement from the Orange County Medical Examiner’s Office on Feb. 10 ruled Saget’s death an accident, stating that his “injuries were most likely incurred from an unwitnessed fall.” This was largely consistent with a statement shared earlier by Saget’s family which said authorities had concluded that the comedian, who was 65, “accidentally hit the back of his head on something, thought nothing of it and went to sleep. No drugs or alcohol were involved.”

Bob Saget died of head trauma, family says

The autopsy report that has since been made public showed that Saget suffered injuries including a scalp abrasion on the back of his head, a fracture at the base of his skull, fractures around his eye sockets as well as bleeding and bruising of the brain. The report also said Saget tested positive for the coronavirus, but noted that there was no evidence of acute or chronic inflammation.

Saget’s injuries are consistent with a “severe brain injury,” said David Hafler, chairman of the department of neurology at Yale School of Medicine. “This is not banging your head against the cabinet door,” Hafler said. Instead, it was a serious injury that may have affected Saget’s ability to get help.

It’s important, experts emphasized, to remember that there are a number of factors that can affect the risks and severity of head trauma — including the kind of injury, and the age and health of the person suffering it.

“Hitting your head on the kitchen cabinet is different from skiing and having a head injury, or, presumably, falling in the bathtub,” Hafler said.

Here’s what experts say you should know about potential head trauma and what actions to take.

Actor and comedian Bob Saget dies at 65

What is a head injury?

Head injuries can encompass minor bumps, bruises or cuts, as well as more serious problems, such as concussions, internal bleeding and brain damage.

Although falls are one common cause of head trauma, particularly among the elderly, Allen Brown, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation with the Mayo Clinic who studies brain rehabilitation, noted that you don’t necessarily need to hit your head against something to potentially cause traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

“The brain is sort of tethered within the skull by the spinal cord,” he said, “and so, rotational forces without actually striking the head [such as whiplash] can also be associated with altered brain function.”

With more severe head injuries, internal bleeding becomes a major concern, experts said.

“The brain is surrounded by fluid with blood vessels that go from basically the skull into the brain,” Hafler said. “With a severe head injury, the brain surrounded by this fluid moves within the skull with the potential of blood vessels breaking” causing potentially fatal bleeding compressing the brain. Head trauma can also directly lead to blood vessels within the brain rupturing.

What can increase the risk of severe injury or death?

Minor head trauma in which people don’t experience loss of consciousness is common and “usually a benign event,” but that isn’t always the case, said Daniel Hanley, director of the division of brain injury outcomes at Johns Hopkins.

For instance, he said, people who are taking blood thinners or have a medical condition that impairs blood clotting may be at increased risk of rare but fatal complications from a minor injury, such as brain bleeds.

“These bleeds sometimes are very sneaky,” said Borna Bonakdarpour, assistant professor of neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “You may not actually see anything in the beginning.”

In some cases, people may experience a “lucid interval” where they appear completely fine, Bonakdarpour said.

Additionally, age is a risk factor. Older people may be more susceptible to falling, and they can have a higher chance of developing bleeds even without a head injury, Hafler said.

Worried about falling? Here are 5 tips to avoid dangerous tumbles, other injuries.

Experts added that being alone at the time of the injury is also a concern. “The problem is if the bleed or the head trauma affects a person’s brain, they may not make the right decision because it affects their memory, it affects their judgment, it affects their attention and decision-making,” Bonakdarpour said.

In Saget’s case, “if he was able to call someone, that might have made a difference,” Hafler said, “but he might not have been able to if he was confused.”

How can I avoid serious head trauma?

“Everyone should be vigilant,” Brown said. “Anything that you can do to minimize risk is at the top of the list.”

Take precautions with potential hazards including stairs, rugs or furniture, and when navigating slippery conditions, such as icy pavement, on foot. Hafler added that bathtubs are also dangerous.

“They’re hard surfaces and you can slip,” he said. “You can easily have a bad enough injury to cause a bleed in the head.”

In terms of avoiding tragedy, “having knowledge and self-awareness goes a long way,” Brown said, “and is probably the most important thing for the public to realize about preventing this from happening in the first place.” And when a head trauma does occur, he urged people to be “situationally aware and take action with any concern of themselves or those around them.”

What should I do if I hit my head?

For most young, healthy people, the occasional bump to the head shouldn’t be cause for alarm, experts said, though they recommended avoiding taking aspirin, which is a blood thinner, for pain or consuming alcohol or sedating drugs. There are also important symptoms to be aware of that can help determine what to do if you have a head injury and whether urgent medical attention is needed.

“A good rule of thumb is with any loss of consciousness or any ongoing headache or any major surface bleeding that family members can see on the outside of the head, an evaluation should take place on an emergent basis,” Hanley said.

You also shouldn’t delay getting checked by a medical professional if you have symptoms such as memory problems, confusion, weakness, lethargy and sleepiness.

After a head injury, “it’s all about observation,” Hafler said. It’s best to have someone with you who can watch for concerning symptoms and take you to a hospital if necessary. “With head injuries, we can fix it before it’s too late,” he said.

Being alone can be more complicated. “There’s a difference between an observed head injury and an unobserved head injury,” Hanley said. “Unobserved head injuries may be accompanied by impaired thinking or mental abilities and may more likely to be underestimated in severity.” According to the autopsy report, Saget likely suffered an “unwitnessed fall backwards.”

In such cases, Hanley said, there should be a lower threshold for an emergency department evaluation. If you’ve experienced what could be a significant head injury and you’re alone, it may be best to get checked as a precaution.

“The head and brain, it’s such a holy place in the body,” Bonakdarpour said. “It has to be really respected.”