Subdural hematoma often, but not always, occurs due to a head injury. What happens is that the veins in the subdural space, which are substantially smaller than arterial veins within the epidural space, are stretched and then tear leading to blood collecting in the subdural space between the two meninges, which are two of the three protective linings between brain and skull. To put it simply internal bleeding leads to a blood clot between brain and skull putting pressure on the brain and thus causing damage. If untreated, this can lead to death. 

Subdural hematoma is treated as an emergency condition, and can sometimes be spotted quickly if a CT scan is performed leading to the likelihood of a full and speedy recovery after surgery. Other times the symptoms do not present themselves until two weeks after the initial injury. Surgery is always the necessary option when it comes to subdural hematoma.

The elderly are particularly at risk of subdural hematoma, especially if sustaining a head injury no matter how minor, as due to the natural process of atrophy (brain shrinkage), the subdural space is bigger with the veins of this space being more stretched compared to those of younger people and thereby more vulnerable to tearing. The same is true for infants, who have a larger subdural space. Subdural hematoma is often connected to the shaken baby syndrome.

Being aware of the possibility of subdural hematoma after a head injury ensures that you can look out for the symptoms of this condition and alert a doctor if you think it is a possibility even if the initial injury is a few days or even weeks past. Look out for the following symptoms in a person who has suffered from a head injury:

  • Dizziness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Headache (constant or fluctuating ones)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain
  • Difficulty with walking and keeping balance
  • Numbness                                                                         
  • Slurred or confused speech
  • Disorientation
  • Irritability and personality changes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling weak and tired

Another vulnerable group for subdural hematoma are people who have a history of head injuries, so it’s especially important for them to be observed for these symptoms.

There are cases in which a subdural hematoma occurs due to spontaneous bleeding without an initial injury. The groups in danger of this are people who have a pre-existing clotting problem such as haemophilia or thrombocytopenia, or people who are taking anticoagulants such as warfarin as medication. This spontaneous bleeding is a lot rarer than subdural hematoma occurring due to a head injury.

In general subdural hematoma is a rare occurrence but heightened within the elderly and the young and those having suffered one or multiple head injuries. Being aware of the condition can ensure a fast response to the problem.

This article was written by Sarah Oxley on behalf of Pannone LLP, personal injury solicitors who have expertise in head injury and medical negligence claims.