Subarachnoid haemorrhage 


Stroke: an animation

This animation explains how a stroke happens, the different types of stroke and how lifestyle changes may help to reduce the risks.

Media last reviewed: 14/11/2013

Next review due: 14/11/2015

A subarachnoid haemorrhage is an uncommon type of stroke caused by bleeding on the surface of the brain. It is a very serious condition and can be fatal.

Subarachnoid haemorrhages account for around 1 in every 20 strokes in the UK.

The main symptom of a subarachnoid haemorrhage is a sudden and very severe headache that is often described as a blinding pain, unlike anything experienced before.

Other symptoms can include:

  • a stiff neck
  • being sick
  • sensitivity to light
  • blurred or double vision
  • seizures (fits) or loss of consciousness

A subarachnoid haemorrhage is a medical emergency. Dial 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance if you, or someone in your care, has these symptoms.

Read more about the symptoms of a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

How a subarachnoid haemorrhage is treated

A person with a suspected subarachnoid haemorrhage will need to have a computerised tomography (CT) scan in hospital to check for signs of bleeding around the brain.

If a diagnosis of subarachnoid haemorrhage is confirmed or strongly suspected, you are likely to be transferred to a specialist neurosciences unit.

Medication will usually be given to help prevent short-term complications (see below) and a procedure to repair the source of the bleeding may be carried out.

Read more about diagnosing a subarachnoid haemorrhage and treating a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

What causes subarachnoid haemorrhages?

The majority of subarachnoid haemorrhages are caused by a brain aneurysm bursting. A brain aneurysm is a bulge in a blood vessel, and is caused by a weakness in the blood vessel wall.

It is not known exactly why brain aneurysms develop in some people, although certain factors that increase your risk of the condition have been identified. These include:

Less common causes of subarachnoid haemorrhages include having abnormally developed blood vessels and inflammation of blood vessels in the brain.

Severe head injuries often cause subarachnoid bleeding, but this is a separate problem known as a "traumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage".

Read more about the causes of subarachnoid haemorrhages.

Who is affected

Between April 2012 and April 2013, over 11,000 people were admitted to hospitals in England with a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

Subarachnoid haemorrhages can happen at any age, even children, but they are most common in people aged between 45 and 70. Slightly more women are affected than men.

Subarachnoid haemorrhages are also more common in black people compared to other ethnic groups. This could be because black people are more likely to have high blood pressure. Read more about black health issues.

Reducing your risk

It's not always possible to prevent a subarachnoid haemorrhage, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk.

The three most effective steps you can take to reduce your chances of having a subarachnoid haemorrhage are:

Read more about preventing subarachnoid haemorrhages.

Possible complications

A subarachnoid haemorrhage can cause both short and long-term complications.

Serious short-term complications can include further bleeding at the site of any aneurysm and brain damage caused by a reduction in blood supply to the brain.

Long-term complications include:

  • epilepsy  where a person has repeated seizures (fits)
  • problems with certain mental functions, such as memory, planning and concentration
  • changes in mood, such as depression

Read more about the complications of a subarachnoid haemorrhage.


Although the outlook for subarachnoid haemorrhage has improved in the last few decades, around half of all cases are fatal, and people who survive can be left with long-term problems.

Recovering after a subarachnoid haemorrhage can also be a slow and frustrating process, and it's common to have problems such as extreme tiredness, headaches and problems sleeping.

Read more about recovering from a subarachnoid haemorrhage.

Page last reviewed: 12/02/2014

Next review due: 12/02/2016


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The 24 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

RoB69 said on 08 August 2014

The Luckiest Man Alive our holiday to Thailand 2009 almost ended in tragedy when I needed lifesaving brain surgery to drain a blood clot. We were into the third day of our three-week 3 day stay in Pattaya when I felt unwell while lying by the pool. We went back to our hotel room so he could lie down but quickly realised something was seriously wrong. One minute we were enjoying ourselves and then the next I nearly died,

I was diagnosed with a subarachnoid brain aneurysm and underwent a six-hour operation on Saturday night. Surgeons pinned the blood vessel to stop the bleeding and fitted a tube to drain the blood clot from my head. My wife was absolutely petrified as the surgeons said it was touch and go whether I would survive.

There is not very much I can remember about what happened to me being in a semi conscious state but my wife told me that I was saying my goodbye’s to her. It was 7pm Saturday night before they took me to the operating theatre the operation was to take 6 hours, she said, she did not sleep very much that night, but semi asleep, she said the phone in her room rang about 8:30 Sunday morning, she picked it up and said, Rob is that you, I said yes, Pauline I want to see you, she came down to intensive care to be with me. This was surreal, it had only been 8 hour since major brain surgery, and I called her from my bed in intensive care.

The week I was in intensive care is a blur I don’t remember much about it I was heavily sedated. Drifting in and out of sleep but I knew that she was with me all the time. they moved me to a private room were my wife could join me I also had a nurse on 24 hour care to look after me. After about two weeks in the private room I was given the all clear to travel home I had to be escorted home by a nurse.
Once home I had to retrain my brain, I decided to become an Internet entrepreneur and create a green eco friendly website.
The journey has been long and hard its taken me

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Laserone said on 30 June 2014

My partner had a SH this year with no identified cause. One of the side effects he describes is that of a feeling of blood rushing up from the neck to the top of his head when he changes head position-for example when getting out of a car or getting up from a chair. Has anyone else experienced this I wonder?

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Jan p said on 12 June 2014

Hi Kathleen 56,
I too had a sub arachnoid haemorrhage on 24/4/2014, and was told that no cause could be found for the bleed and it was the best sort to have as it was unlikely to happen again !! I too feel that I have been dismissed and cast adrift just expecting to get in with it! I have no neurological deficit so am lucky, but as you no follow up is planned and I must just get on with it now.
With regards to driving and the DVLA I read on their website that if no cause was found and you are well then your GP can say you can drive if he is happy with your condition, blood pressure etc and you have had no seizures!! My GP has just given me permission to drive after nearly two months

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Kathleen56 said on 18 April 2014

I suffered a SAH in November 2013. Started 'out of the blue' with a sudden indescribable headache, followed within minutes with neck stiffness and vomiting, along with light sensitivity. 111 sent paramedics who were convinced I had a migraine but decided they would take me into hospital anyway - this was slightly worrying as I now know I had classic signs of SAH. Hospital was amazing and almost immediately carried out a CT scan, followed by a second one which indeed showed SAH.
I had cerebral angiogram within 48hrs and found 'no cause' just a spontaneous bleed.
I was lucky enough not to have suffered any limb weakness but have totally lost my sense of smell and taste.
I was discharged from hospital after 6 days with no follow up required...
The worst thing I have since felt is that because there was no aneurysm and sub no follow up - I felt dismissed with no support after such a traumatic event - I spoke to the specialist nurse and headway but no real help, presumably because simply no physical problem and therefore nothing further to treat...
The emotional toll of such an event is largely ignored in my time of case
I would be interested to hear the experiences of others who may have been in a similar situation
A further point of interest to note is that whilst I informed the DVLA very early on, it has taken me 5 months to get the ok to drive again - partly caused by delays in the hospital sending back medical forms and partly DVLA processes!

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Certacito said on 16 January 2014

I suffered an SAH on 7th December 2012. I was a fit and healthy 50 year old. It came in the form of a sudden headache, extremely painful. Initially I went directly to my GP who diagnosed a 'migraine', which I have never suffered from in my life. On my return home my wife could clearly see that I was not well. She managed to talk me in to going to A&E. I felt like a bit of a fraud as I only had a headache. I was admitted to hospital in the late afternoon as a precaution. I spent a very uncomfortable and painful night on a ward and the following morning I was taken for a scan. I returned to the ward, and the next thing I knew two doctors came running onto the ward asking the nurses where I was. The doctor informed me that I had suffered an SAH, and that an ambulance had been called and I was to be transferred to hospital in Newcastle.
On arrival treatment was immediately started using Nimodipine and I was given a more in depth scan. They discovered that i had a ruptured anuerysm and a further anuerysm in another area. I was taken to theatre to have the bleed treated by endo vascular coiling.
I spent 10 days in hospital, and the operation was a complete success. The headaches lasted about 4 weeks along with extreme tiredness. But I recovered virtually back to normal.
The second anuerysm was a different story. That had to treated by having a craniotomy and a clip fitted. All very scary stuff. In all I spent a total of 8 months off work and a further 5 months doing altered duties on my return.
Thanks to the skill of the neuro surgery guys in the RVI Newcastle I am now back to full duty as a firefighter.
My message is don't give up, this was the most scary time of my life and I thought many things would never be the same again. Good luck to all of you suffering the same problems.

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User812018 said on 16 October 2013

I am a person who suffered a Brain Haemorrhage on the Evening of 25th of January 2013. It started while making Snow men with my 6yr old daughter, and my head just blew up. With in the hour I was in the toilet Doubled over in pain vomiting Violently. I managed to get some sleep, and in the morning on Sat 26th I could not open my eyes due to severe pain in the head due to the light. I could not eat or drink anything either. Sunday afternoon I was able to open my eyes for a lil while and started to take paracetamol and Iburofen and started to eat n drink. On the Evening on sun 27th I spoke to me Mum on the phone and told her what was happening, because she is a Registered Nurse and she advised me to make an Emergancy Appointment at the Doc's as it sounds serious.So Monday I was able to get myself dressed and take me lil girl to School, but every step that I took it was putting pain into my head. By the time I got back home my Head was Throbbing. So I made the Appointment at the docs for Tues the 28th and went back to bed taking Painkillers. I couldn't laugh/sneeze/cough with out pain. Tues Morn I had to cancel the Appointment as I couldn't make it in time Due to, to much pain from getting dressed and taking me Daughter to School. My Mum had phoned up that Tuesday night to see if I had been to the doc's, to which I replied that I had to cancel it as I couldn't get there in time and I was still getting a lil pain, but has calmed down a lot since it happened on Friday the 25th. She then shouted at me to make the Appointment A.S.A.P. So 1st thing Wednesday morn of the 29th I made the Appointment for Thurs 30th which I was able to get to. I spoke to the Doc and told him how I was feeling and what was happening, he then replied asking if I could get to the Hospital in Wrexham, and I said that I can take the Train there then walk about half a mile to the Hospital, to which he replied I don't want you walking I'll get an Ambulance for you.

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Jimbo1959 said on 15 July 2013

(Continued) I have been very fortunate with the support of my wife and children. I have heard of some marriages breaking up under the pressure of the personality changes. But, I now have a job I enjoy, I will live to see my children grow up and be there for them too. My wife and I have evolved in our relationship, she has had a very difficult four years, my personality has changed considerably, I can only thank her for her patience.
I have come to realise that I have been, in the circumstances, very lucky.

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Jimbo1959 said on 15 July 2013

Sorry about the rather mixed up posts preceding this, if you read them in reverse order working your way up the page you will find it all beginning to make sense.
These comments were written a little over three years ago when I was at my lowest ebb after my accident and were sent to the Samaritans, I needed to talk to someone not connected to me or my family, I had become very introverted and my personality had changed significantly and needed to hear an independent view of my situation. They were very helpful.
I have now made an almost full physical recovery, largely down to the amount of hard work I have put into rehabilitating myself. I only really have any trouble with my memory now, there are still gaps and although my vocabulary has been recovered, the memory loss sometimes effects my ability to say exactly what I mean and the way I want and mean to say it.
From where I was, to where I am now, has been a long and arduous journey. (See next post).

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Jimbo1959 said on 15 July 2013

I need constant supervision and maintenance to keep me in check not just at work but also at home, my wife has become the senior partner there where as, we shared the job for over twenty five years before.

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Jimbo1959 said on 15 July 2013

I still have pins and needles in my left calf and foot. My right leg is still numb between the hip and knee, my eye sight has improved enough for me to be able to drive again but if I turn my head as though scrutinising something my sight doubles and I can sometimes lose my balance, in fact I feel like I am going backwards. Fortunately I never need to turn my head that way when driving.
I can't get the counselling I need until mid February, also my appointment with my neurologist has been changed from the start of February until the end of April, another three months in limbo. That really upset me.
My wife and one or two friends have tried to tell me to remain positive because I have come so far in such a short time, I have worked miracles compared to some other poor unfortunates in the same position as me, however I have always had high expectations in everything I do and try to achieve, to fail in any endeavour just wasn't in my thought process.
I used to have a skill or knack, I could look at whatever interested me, diagnose a fault or problem, pick out what was right or wrong and then sort it.
Note use of past tense; my little gift is gone and it breaks my heart. I don't feel like me anymore, that guy died as far as I am concerned and sometimes if I am honest I wish I had. I don't relate to my wife or children the way I used to, there is a distance now which wasn't there before, I feel clumsy and stupid, I am fed up upsetting people (including myself) by being too literal, emotional, aggressive, timid, the list goes on, I want me back and I can't have me. I will be a reasonable faxsimile and that's the best I can hope for, but its taking too long. I have become very depressed, I am afraid to go to work, constantly worrying what I am going to screw up next.
It is very sad, I was once responsible for a department that turned over £1.5 million a year with myself as head, an apprentice and a part time delivery driver, now I can barely make up my mind.

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Jimbo1959 said on 15 July 2013

My problems started after a serious road traffic accident. I suffered a Traumatic Subarachnoid Haemorrhage, it left me with various bits no longer working the way they used to or not at all and having to relearn how to walk and talk properly again. I have lost significant parts of my memory so that I can no longer do my job or live my life the way I used to or want to either.
It is very irritating to be in a conversation and then the word won't come out, I just can't remember it, or I can lose my train of thought which makes me look and sound stupid. I like to e-mail people now because I can review what I have said, the spelling, and the context in which I have said it without misunderstanding. I never used to have the time or patience for e-mail before I was always very chatty, the life and soul type of person. Now I am reserved, almost timid when amongst strangers, previously I was busy trying to make friends and have a good time.
I am also experiencing extreme emotional problems, my mood swings from good cheer, to absolute rage, to crying like a baby, sometimes in a matter of seconds, I can become very aggressive without rhyme or reason, usually over nothing too. These changes are all related to the brain injury and are common so I am told, but I don't like what I have become, for fifty years I was a reasonably well balanced, average sort of fellow. Now you just never know what your going to get when your talking to me, clown, nutter, baby or shy mouse.
After I was allowed out of hospital I worked hard to get my balance and general orientation back, I walked for miles daily, I did brain puzzles on the computer to stimulate and get my brain working properly. As soon as my eye function returned to a reasonably normal level I read a lot to try to return my vocabulary to its previous level. I was optimistic, in the past when I have had accidents I have healed quickly without problem, this time we are almost six months down the line and I feel no further forward.

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michey boo said on 24 March 2013

My mum collapsed a week ago today at 2 in the morning with subarachnoid haemorrhage, she was in good health the previous day although she had a bad migraine a few days before which she has always suffered with, as with majority of cases we had no idea she had an aneurysm til this happened. She had a CT scan at Northern General Hospital in Sheffield (our hometown) which showed bleeding on her brain & was rushed to the Hallamshire Hospital where she is currently receiving care in ICU after 2 operations (the 1st to drain the bleeding & 2nd to clip the blood vessel that is ruptured) she is in ICU still due to issues with her blood pressure, possible chest infection & the fact that she requires assistance breathing. Today however is the best she's responded all week I'm glad to say, we are taking each day as it comes hoping for better news so that she can then be moved out of ICU. I knew next to nothing about aneurysms/subarachnoid haemorrhage before this & the last week has been a blur so found actually taking time to sit & read this easier to understand the condition & what to expect for her in the future. The team in ICU at Hallamshire hospital are doing a great job caring for my mum, I am full of praise for them & the ambulance team for keeping us informed & being sympathetic. Now I understand more it makes it a little easier to cope & although it will take a long time from reading of other peoples experiences, I look forward to her making a full recovery. To Maisie the Moo, this is hard enough to get through even with all the support imaginable so I think you are doing a wonderful job :) I hope you & your family are coping & your mum is improving x

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squire23 said on 14 March 2013

Nearly 2 months ago back in January, a family friend I had know since I was 5 yrs old suffered a fatal Subarachnoidal Brain Haemorage at work, whilst on duty.
Four days later we made the decision to turn of the life support machine in ICU.
My family friend went to his GP 6 times, complaining of severe headaches, just like a migrane, only to recieve pain relief, when in fact he should have been further tests, for example, MRI/CAT scan.
No one should have to make that kind of decision because a patient had been let down by they GP.
It feels that I and his family are living a life sentence as a result.

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Dan Cannell said on 09 February 2013

Also I was 26years old at the time.
I also suffered 'fatigue' which is very different to tiredness as people kept thinking I was.
Recognise it and don't overlook it. The amount of times I went back to doctors for sleeping tablets was unreal even though I was constantly tired I couldn't sleep for days!
They helped me recognise it.

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Dan Cannell said on 09 February 2013

5 years ago I suffered a motorbike accident which left me with an SAH. There were a lot of broken bones too but the head injury took the longest to ever remotely heal!! Long way to go still but it's great to see how others have felt about this as it seems people try to understand but unless you've experienced it noone ever truly does despite their best efforts and I felt alone!
My SAH reset my taste buds, gave me memory loss, and i had to relearn even simple things like tieing shoe laces and remembering is still an issue although a 1000x better than a few years ago! My personality has changed a lot in that I am impatient, less tolerent, more focused and more determined. I think it resets it back to the base character and having to learn lots of little intricacies like affection and how to do certain things a certain way take a long time to re-establish. I am much different to pre-accident and post-accident but I am better - I walk away and consider things before ever giving an answer as I am too impulsive in reactions. I find it much better and easier on me and those around me!

Things i have learnt about SAH -
Walk away and think before giving an answer if it is remotely important! Patience is something I no longer have but am training myself to have again.
It does get better!

I must have read and re-wrote this post a 100x! You have no idea how much seeing this page has helped as i first saw this page in 2012!

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rjmachin said on 24 December 2012

Maisie_the_moo, you're a brave girl. Hope your mum is improving.

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JFA 1961 said on 03 September 2012

Had haemorage 22nd august 2012 at early days.I'll keep you updated.

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leemarq said on 16 May 2012

It has been 4 months now since my own subarachnodial haemorrage. I was at a BBQ and suddenly felt my head explode, and was sick (physically) every time I tried to move. 2 days in IC and a further 10 days in a High Dependency Ward followed. I am back at work now, but still get tired quite easily (this does get better), yet often I will eake up in the early hours unable to sleep, and find I suffer feelings of depression more readily. Time does seem to help, though, but I will admit that my personality seems to have changed. I used to be patient and understanding. Now I'm just not. Its strange to feel health but changed.

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Rik H said on 28 November 2011

Im 26 years old and have just been diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemourage after having a TIA last year and being told I was fine and only suffering with migrane by my local hospital. I am now awaiting an op which will be done ASAP according to my local neurosurgery. I am tired all the time, increasingly weak on my right side, struggle with speach and constant pain. I do not know how long this op is going to be an am dreading the recovery time. After reading this page I am extremely scared that if it's not soon things will just get worse. :(

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michelle18 said on 23 July 2011

I'm a 28 year old airhostess and had landed back from Toronto and decided to go straight to one of my friends houses. Whilst I was there I remember a big sudden pain in my head and I said 'it feels like my head's just caved in!' The next thing i was feeling queasy and was being sick. Then apparently i passed out.
It turns out I had a subarachnoid haemorrhage.
I had the operation at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, and apparently I was in an induced coma for 3 days, was paralysed down my right hand side and wasn't talking for over a week! I don't remember any of this, and probably the next 2 weeks cause of the medication I was on. Even when i was allowed back home the occupational therapist come over to see me and wanted me to draw a clock face, and i couldn't even do that, amongst other things she was testing me on!
Throughout my recovery I always remember being happy (in a weird little way). I was never depressed or down. Maybe with thanks to all my family and friends!
I made a full recovery after 5 and a half months, which is amazing! I'm certainly one lucky girl, and am so grateful to everyone that was involved in me making my amazing recovery.
I am now back flying the skys and am so happy my life has returned back to how it was before.

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lornaC79 said on 08 July 2011

My Dad suffered from a subarachnoid haemorrhage in 2001. We were told that he had a 30% chance of survival and if he did, he would be left requiring nursing care. Well, he made a full recovery and returned to his old self after a few months- the medical team were gob smacked!! Not a day goes by where i forget how lucky we all were to have him back. The day Dad walked me down the aisle was a truly momentous occasion. Maisie moo....keep your chin up toots and i hope you don't resent your Dad too much for walking out. We all deal with lifes ups and downs differently. I also experienced the same with my then so - called friends. You learn that there are better people out there who will give the support you need. Just remember to look after yourself too. I was in my 3rd year of nurse training when dad took ill and i firmly believe that it made me all the better a nurse - believe me, this life experience will only make you stronger and a better person and nurse. Also wish to thanks once again, my colleagues at Stirling Royal Infirmary and the staff at the Western General neurology dept whose amazing and swift care saved my Dads life and restored our family life back in 2001 and the care and support we all recieved in the months which followed.

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User571259 said on 06 July 2011

I had a subarachnoid haemorage 4 years ago
I was very lucky-admitted to Royal Free same day.
surgery - followed by daily lumbar punctures-ouch!
I had 1 year off work & then went back to work(administrator NHS) lot's of computer work.
To maisie_the_moo ,my first year was a nightmare I had difficulty walking/sight/headaches/unable to drive.
will never be the same- however your mum may be as lucky as I was.(my b/day 17th June) hope this is a sign for her recovery.?
I wish you and your mum all my very best wishes.

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maisie_the_moo said on 16 June 2011

my mum had a subarachnoidal haemorage on 17th june 2010. we found her unconcious at 2 in the morning.. so tonight is going to be an emotional night for all of my family. I was 15 when i found my mum, and now 16, i have a lot to cope with... that lots of my friends cant understand. i have to help a lot at home, and i dont mind doing it, i just wish my friends would understand the reason why i cant always come out... :( my mum was very lucky to have survived the haemorage, as not many people do, and she just has a weak side to the body, and cant always do things for herself. she finds it hard to stay awake, and she is constantly in pain. My dad left us after 2 days of my mum coming out of hospital, so now i am sort of the 'head of house' in a way because i look after my mum and my 10 year old brother.. i would like to thank Kings College Hospital for their amazing care for my mum to ensure that she pulled through, and i am going to train to be an army nurse, and go and work in kings so that i can hopefully help to save other innocent childrens parents.

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iamalady said on 09 February 2011

my son was hit over the head 5 years ago he had a subarachnoidal haemorage due to the trauma of the bang on the head he went to hospital in terrible pain they sent him home with paracetamol, no follow up he now has brain damage his character has completely changed, his marriage broke up he lost his home everything he cant smell or taste food, and suffers with headaches this should have been drained but they didnt have the resources for this, 5 years later he is disabled dont like people round him, cant live on his own he has organic personality disorder caused from the bang on his head and let down by the NHS

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