Roger Ailes and Natasha Richardson: The Hidden Dangers of Head Trauma

Roger Ailes, one of the founders of Fox News, died from an intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding inside the skull) after falling and hitting his head. Though the bleeding was exacerbated by the fact Mr. Ailes had hemophilia (a genetic inability to properly form blood clots), intracranial hemorrhaging can affect otherwise healthy people.

Two specific types of intracranial bleeding will be discussed here because they claimed the lives of high-profile individuals.

Roger Ailes: Subdural Hematoma

The brain is protected by three membranes, collectively known as the meninges. The outermost layer is called the dura mater, and subdural hemorrhaging is bleeding that occurs beneath this membrane. The veins that exist in this portion of the head can get torn from a mild injury, resulting in a subdural hematoma (clotted blood below the dura mater).

If the bleeding is bad enough, as it was in Mr. Ailes's case, the blood must be drained right away. Outcomes for acute subdural hematomas are not particularly good, as 50 to 90% of patients will die. The reason is because the bleeding damages underlying brain tissue and causes intracranial pressure to rise too high.

Natasha Richardson: Epidural Hematoma

In 2009, actress Natasha Richardson (the wife of Liam Neeson) also died following a head trauma. She fell while skiing and hit her head. Reports say she laughed about it and refused medical treatment. About an hour later, however, she began to show signs of a serious problem. Two days later, she died.

Ms. Richardson had suffered an epidural hematoma, a bleeding outside of the dura mater. It is extremely common for people with this type of head injury to feel perfectly fine and lucid initially after hitting their head, but then to deteriorate rapidly, which is why it is sometimes called "talk and die syndrome."

Unlike a subdural hematoma, the underlying brain tissue isn't damaged. So, if the blood is drained immediately (within a few hours), the mortality rate is only 5 to 10%. 

Take Head Trauma Seriously

Most bumps to the head will end up being harmless, but some are lethal. This is why you should wear a helmet while playing sports, particularly bicycling or skateboarding. If you do hit your head, it may not be a bad idea to consult a doctor.

Source: Traumatic Epidural vs Subdural Hematoma. Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. (2006) Accessed: 23-May-17.