Doctors Explain What to Do — and What Not to Do — When You Hit Your Head

Following the death of Bob Saget due to head trauma, medical professionals tell PEOPLE why it's so important to remain vigilant after a head injury

Bob Saget's family confirmed on Wednesday that the actor's death last month at the age of 65 was due to head trauma.

In their statement, the Saget family said that authorities "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."

In light of the development, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, tells PEOPLE why it's so important to remain vigilant after a head injury.

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"When you hit your head, you could have bleeding in different ways," says Wen, who did not treat Saget. "An epidural hematoma is a type of brain injury. You can also have a subdural hematoma, another possibility as well."

Bob Saget
Bob Saget. James Brickwood/getty

Actress Natasha Richardson died of an epidural hematoma in 2009 at the age of 45, after a ski accident in Mont Tremblant, Canada.

"A subdural hematoma is a very common hematoma. Both of these are when veins are ripped from a head injury, that causes pooled blood to put pressure on the brain," Wen explains.

While Saget's family confirmed the Full House star died of head trauma, it's important to note that an autopsy report was not released, and that Dr. Wen does not know exactly what happened nor the exact nature of his head injury. It is also unclear when or how Saget hit his head, and whether or not he experienced any disorientation before going to sleep.

Nonetheless, Wen notes that there are some important steps you can take if you think you've hit your head badly.

"If you have a substantial head injury, tell someone," she says. "Call your doctor if you're particularly worried, but you should at least tell someone, and don't be alone. That way, somebody can help to monitor you and make sure that you're OK."

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Wen also says certain individuals should be extra careful. "I would err on the side of caution, especially if you are someone at higher risk. For example, if you are on any kind of blood thinners," she says. "Also if you are older, you also have a higher risk of bleeding in the brain."

Joshua Marcus, MD, Neurosurgery, Nuvance Health, agrees.

"Patients who are on blood thinners or antiplatelet medication — any type of blood thinner — are high-risk patients who really need to be pretty vigilant any time they hit their head, and really seek medical attention. We're more aggressive with getting CAT scans for those patients than we would be for younger patients, which is where it's more rare to have catastrophic [head injuries]."

Marcus, who also did not treat or examine Saget, notes that there are steps you can take even when you are alone after hitting your head.

"There are certain symptoms that you want to look out for immediately following hitting your head. Anytime you lose consciousness, of course, even if it is very brief, or you're amnestic to (don't remember) the event," he tells PEOPLE, adding that it's important to look out for "any type of confusion."

He also says to pay attention to "any associated nausea, vomiting — those are obviously very concerning symptoms."

"If you develop any sort of weakness or numbness or a seizure-like activity, those are obviously signs to immediately seek medical attention and go to an emergency room," Marcus adds. "You shouldn't have any motor weakness, shouldn't have real confusion, shouldn't have language trouble."

If your symptoms are progressing, he says, they "really need to be seen by a doctor."

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Extrapolating from studies on concussed athletes, the doctor recommends to stay awake for 2 to 3 hours after the head injury to make sure none of these symptoms present themselves, noting that athletes with concussions are urged to "keep themselves awake" and be monitored for "about three hours" after injury.

"Within an hour or two, presumably, a bad head injury could progress," he says. "And that's what you're trying to look out for. [After that] timeframe, I don't think there's a significant significant risk that something worse is going to happen."

The manner in which the head injury occurs is also quite important, he notes.

"If it's what we call a low mechanism of injury — not a high-speed car accident, or a bike accident or a ski accident, but rather a fall from standing — [and] there's no loss of consciousness, there's no surrounding symptoms, then I don't think we're as vigilant about keeping [to wake] patients up overnight. But they should ideally be monitored by somebody else."

Marcus also says not to overreact every time you bump your head.

"I think in the setting of hitting your head, it's still pretty rare to have a severe head bleed from a head trauma," he says. "So I don't think everyone should be terrified that any minor hit on your head is going to be catastrophic or fatal."

He says that if head pain lingers for weeks after bumping it, but no other symptoms occur — and the pain doesn't develop or become worse over time, which he calls "crescendo" symptoms — then it's most likely nothing to worry about.

"Symptoms can linger for weeks, sometimes even longer," he says. "Ongoing symptoms are not necessarily super concerning beyond the first few hours. But if symptoms are worsening, that's another thing to really look out for."

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