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Gary Coleman death: What is an intracranial hemorrhage?

May 28, 2010 |  6:26 pm

Actor Gary Coleman died Friday of an intracranial hemorrhage after being taken off life support. According to the Associated Press, a statement from Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, where he was being treated, said that Coleman was lucid before becoming unconscious and being put on life support.

L35bwdnc Coleman battled health problems throughout his life, including a chronic kidney condition. A few months ago he suffered a seizure while on the set of a television show. Whether those things are related to his cause of death are as yet unknown.

An intracranial hemorrhage is a broad term that refers to any bleeding that occurs between the skull and brain due to a number of factors, said Dr. Keith Black, chairman and professor at the department of neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. A hemorrhage can be triggered by trauma to the head, or an aneurysm, the weakening of a vein or artery. The bleeding puts pressure on the brain, which in turn squeezes brain tissue or cuts down on blood supply to the brain.

"High blood pressure could also cause a hemorrhage, especially if blood pressure is not well controlled," Black said. "Also, a person could be at an increased risk of bleeding if their blood is not able to clot." Anti-clotting medications could exacerbate that, as could other health conditions.

There are three main types of bleeding that occur in an intracranial hemorrhages, said Black. A subdural bleed can be caused by a trauma to the head that tears veins and causes bleeding on the surface of the brain, in turn increasing pressure on brain tissue. An epidural hematoma is usually caused by a torn artery, again typically from trauma, but this type can cause more pressure on the brain. An intracerebral hemorrhage happens in the brain tissue itself when blood vessels rupture. That can be caused by high blood pressure, from a severe trauma, or when tangled arteries or blood vessels break.

Time is a hugely important factor in treating an intracranial hemorrhage, Black said. "Time is of the essence in getting to the hospital and getting the diagnosis correct," he said. "It's also important in understanding the underlying cause of the bleed so you can correct it and if possible, try to prevent it from getting worse and expanding."

Since high blood pressure is a possible cause of intracranial bleeding, even in young people, Smith said it's important to go for regular check-ups that include a blood pressure test.

--Jeannine Stein

Actor Gary Coleman died at the age of 42 from an intracranial hemorrhage. Photo credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

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