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Doctor: Natasha Richardson likely had 'talk and die' syndrome

It is called talk and die syndrome.

Although unusual, people can have what seems to be a mild blow to the head, appear perfectly lucid and then within hours lapse into a coma -- which is what reportedly happened to actress Natasha Richardson after she fell on a Canadian ski slope Monday.

"It is not a very common occurrence," Dr. Steven Flanagan, medical director of the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at New York University Medical Center, said Wednesday. "A patient comes into the emergency room talking and then rapidly deteriorates" as blood pools and puts pressure on brain tissue.

- Click here to see photos of Natasha Richardson through her life

A 2007 review in the Journal of Clinical Neuroscience found "talk and die" patients were about 2.6 percent of those who died of head injuries.

Flanagan and other doctors speculated, based on news reports, that Richardson could have suffered from an epidural hematoma. Usually caused by a trauma such as a fall, a buildup of blood occurs between the cover of the brain, called the dura, and the skull.

Because the blood is trapped inside the "closed box" of the skull, it can compress brain tissue, which can cause pressure on vital functions, said Dr. Henry Woo, associate professor of neurological surgery and radiology at Stony Brook University Medical Center. In some cases, emergency surgery could be performed to remove the clot.

Richardson apparently fell on the beginner's ski slope at Mont Tremblant in Quebec. According to reports, she appeared fine and returned to her hotel; an hour later, she complained of a headache and was taken to a hospital. She was transported Tuesday to Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan and reportedly remained gravely ill Wednesday.

A CT scan is the best way to diagnose a brain injury, said Dr. Ashesh Mehta, a neurosurgeon at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. Mehta, like other doctors, said anyone who has had a blow to the head should be watched for changes in his or her condition.

If the person has a severe headache, becomes nauseated or dizzy, begins vomiting, has a seizure, loses consciousness or develops weakness on one side, get to the hospital immediately, said Dr. Steven Walerstein, medical director of Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow: "It's better to be overconcerned rather than underconcerned."

- Click here to see photos of Natasha Richardson through her life

- Photos of Natasha Richardson's family at Lenox Hill hospital in NYC, and the Quebec ski resort

- Click here to see photos of more celebrity deaths that shocked us

Click here to see photos of more stars who died too young

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