- The former president underwent surgery due to subdural hematoma, or bleeding in the brain.
- Experts think it was related to a recent fall.
- Falling is a serious risk for older adults.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter is recovering at Emory University Hospital following surgery Tuesday morning to relieve pressure on his brain from a subdural hematoma, according to a recent statement from The Carter Center.
The former president was admitted to the hospital on Monday evening ahead of this morning’s procedure. The pressure buildup was likely caused by a series of recently experienced falls by the 95-year-old.
“Falling is a common cause of these subdural hematomas as you get older. As we age the skull stays the same size, but the brain shrinks and the things that cross in between the brain and that covering can be sheared,” Adrian T. Harvey, DO, a neurosurgeon at Texas Health Fort Worth and Texas Health Physicians Group, told Healthline.
According to the Washington Post, Carter was hospitalized just last month after falling in his Georgia home and fracturing his pelvis. It was his second fall in 2 weeks, and this time he required stitches above his left brow.
Harvey explains falling could create a hemorrhage, which puts pressure on the brain that can raise the risk of further falls. He describes it as a “vicious cycle.”
According to Harvey, the structure of someone’s head consists of the skin, scalp, then bone. Inside the skull is a covering over the brain that’s called the dura. It comprises three layers that cover the brain.
The most prominent layer is called the dura mater. It’s the tough outermost membrane enveloping the brain and spinal cord. Within that is the brain.
“So, it’s a hemorrhage, a bleed in between the brain and above or under the dura, and it can come in multiple forms,” Harvey said. “It can come in an acute form, which is usually from a fall, or perhaps someone using a blood thinner.”
Those tend to be fairly large and obvious, but Harvey explained, “If they’re smaller and unnoticed, they can transform into what we call a chronic subdural, which is mainly the blood products break down and consist of a very thin motor oil colored fluid that then can push on the brain.”
Harvey clarifies that although the details of Carter’s surgery haven’t been revealed, one of two procedures may be used to relieve the pressure on his brain.
“The details haven’t been fully revealed for this surgery, but there’s one of two ways. The most common way in a chronic subdural is making one or two holes in the skull. We call them burr holes because we use a high-speed burr or drill to create two small holes in the skull, and then to drain the fluid that way,” Harvey said.
However, if the bleeding or pain in the side of the head comes back, and depending on how sick the patient, “You can actually do a bigger opening where you open the scalp and take the bone off temporarily, drain the fluid that way, and then put the bone back in place,” Harvey said.
Harvey emphasizes this surgery isn’t without risks.
“The biggest one, honestly, is that it recurs, that it comes back,” Harvey said. “But that’s a fairly low risk, you know, 5 percent or less, most likely.”
He adds that other factors to consider are that the former president is older, so his generalized recovery from this neurosurgery may be tough. “Also, less common complications are seizure and stroke,” Harvey said.
According to the most recent statement from The Carter Center, “There are no complications from the surgery. President Carter will remain in the hospital as long as advisable for observation.”
Tuesday morning, former President Jimmy Carter successfully underwent surgery to relieve pressure on his brain caused by bleeding in the space between his brain and skull.
Experts say this was likely caused by multiple falling accidents he’s had this year.
The surgery performed has a very low risk of complications, but for now, Carter will remain in the hospital for observation.