Keith Richards health: Star’s ‘blinding headache’ was sign of ‘serious condition’

Mick Jagger pays tribute to Charlie Watts at Rolling Stones show

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Details of the incident in Fiji hit headlines at the time, with a spokesperson for the band revealing that the star, who was 62 years old at the time, was in hospital in New Zealand after a successful operation. Although initial reports suggested that Richards only suffered from a mild concussion after he fell 16ft from a coconut tree, further tests by medical professionals revealed that the star’s health was in a more critical condition. Tests at the Ascot Hospital in Auckland showed that the guitarist had a subdural haematoma.

The accident in Fiji is not the only one that the musician has been a part of over his career. In 1998 Richards was left with three broken ribs and a punctured lung after falling from a ladder in his home library.

Then again in 1990, one of the star’s fingers became infected after he punctured it on a guitar string. In all of these circumstances, the band were forced to postpone concerts whilst the famous guitarist recovered.

Despite previous ailments and injuries, the blood clot on the brain in the early 2000s was potentially the worst that the now 78-year-old star has faced.

It was reported by Rolling Stone that immediately after the fall, Richards felt fine and didn’t feel any serious pain until a few days after his fall.

Whilst on a boat ride it was reported that he suffered from a “blinding headache” and during the night suffered from two seizures in his sleep, urging his wife Patti to call for medical attention.

After a worrying four hour flight from Fiji to New Zealand, the star was seen immediately by neurosurgeon Doctor Andrew Law, who operated on the haematoma and stopped the bleeding.

At the time, a spokesperson for the band released this statement: “Keith was under observation in Auckland after a fall in Fiji and was feeling well since being examined by doctors last week.

“But after complaining of headaches, doctors thought it prudent to move ahead with a small operation to relieve the pressure. The operation was a complete success, with Keith up and chatting with his family today.”

After his emergency surgery, Richards was reported to have said: “I woke up feeling great. And I said, ‘Well, when are you going to start?’ Law said, ‘It’s all done, mate.'”

The NHS explains that a subdural haematoma is a “serious condition” in which blood collects between the skull and the surface of the brain.

Typically caused by a head injury, it is common for symptoms to develop a few days or even weeks after a minor head injury, such as the one Richards suffered.

The most common symptoms of a subdural haematoma include:

  • A headache that keeps getting worse
  • Feeling and being sick
  • Confusion
  • Personality changes, such as being unusually aggressive or having rapid mood swings
  • Feeling drowsy
  • Loss of consciousness.

After a head trauma, blood escapes from a blood vessel, which leads to the formation of a blood clot (haematoma). This then places pressure on the brain and causes damage to it.

Due to the seriousness of the condition, the NHS adds that it carries a “high risk of death,” particularly in older people and those who have been through a significant fall.

Acute subdural haematomas are the most serious type because they’re often associated with significant damage to the brain.

Although Richards only suffered from a minor fall, due to his age and history of alcohol misuse, the NHS states that this made him more likely to suffer from a subdural haematoma. This is thought to be because most individuals’ brains shrink to some degree as they get older, placing increased tension on the brain’s blood vessels.

Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time can also gradually cause the brain to shrink, making the brain’s blood vessels more vulnerable to damage.

Immediate surgery is required to treat subdural haematomas, with two surgical techniques used widely:

  1. Craniotomy – a section of the skull is temporarily removed so the surgeon can access and remove the haematoma
  2. Burr holes – a small hole is drilled into the skull and a tube is inserted through the hole to help drain the haematoma.

Burr holes is the main treatment for haematomas that develop a few days or weeks after sustaining a minor head injury. Depending on the severity of the bleed, the tube may be left in place for a few days afterwards to reduce the chances of the haematoma returning.

The NHS explains that like all operations, surgery for a subdural haematoma carries a risk of complications. Most of these complications are uncommon, but they can be serious. Problems that can occur after subdural haematoma surgery include:

  • Further bleeding on the brain
  • Infection of the wound or skull flap
  • A blood clot in a leg vein (deep vein thrombosis)
  • Fits (seizures)
  • A stroke.

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