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Early tracheostomy in closed head injuries: experience at a tertiary center in a developing country—a prospective study

Chintamani, Jotinder Khanna, J P Singh, Pranjal Kulshreshtha, Pawan Kalra, Binita Priyambada, R S Mohil, Dinesh Bhatnagar
BMC Emergency Medicine 2005 October 14, 5: 8
16236181

BACKGROUND: An important factor contributing to the high mortality in patients with severe head trauma is cerebral hypoxia. The mechanical ventilation helps both by reduction in the intracranial pressure and hypoxia. Ventilatory support is also required in these patients because of patient's inability to protect the airway, persistence of excessive secretions, and inadequacy of spontaneous ventilation. Prolonged endotracheal intubation is however associated with trauma to the larynx, trachea, and patient discomfort in addition to requirement of sedatives. Tracheostomy has been found to play an integral role in the airway management of such patients, but its timing remains subject to considerable practice variation. In a developing country like India where the intensive care facilities are scarce and rarely available, these critical patients have to be managed in high dependency cubicles in the ward, often with inadequately trained nursing staff and equipment to monitor them. An early tracheostomy in the selected group of patients based on Glasgow Coma Score(GCS) may prove to be life saving. Against this background a prospective study was contemplated to assess the role of early tracheostomy in patients with isolated closed head injury.

METHODS: The series consisted of a cohort of 50 patients admitted to the surgical emergency with isolated closed head injury, that were not considered for surgery by the neuro-surgeon or shifted to ICU, but had GCS score of less than 8 and SAPS II score of more than 50. First 50 case records from January 2001 that fulfilled the criteria constituted the control group. The patients were managed as per ATLS protocol and intubated if required at any time before decision to perform tracheostomy was taken. These patients were serially assessed for GCS (worst score of the day as calculated by senior surgical resident) and SAPS scores till day 15 to chart any changes in their status of head injuries and predictive mortality. Those patients who continued to have a GCS score of <8 and SAPS score of >50 for more than 24 hours (to rule out concussion or recovery) underwent tracheostomy. All these patients were finally assessed for mortality rate and hospital stay, the statistical analysis was carried out using SPSS10 version. The final outcome (in terms of mortality) was analyzed utilizing chi-square test and p value <0.05 was considered significant.

RESULTS: At admission both tracheostomy and non-tracheostomy groups were matched with respect to GCS score and SAPS score. The average day of tracheostomy was 2.18 +/- 1.0038 days. The GCS scores on days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 between tracheostomy and non-tracheostomized group were comparable. However the difference in the GCS scores was statistically significant on day 15 being higher in the tracheostomy group. Thus early tracheostomy was observed to improve the mortality rate significantly in patients with isolated closed head injury.

CONCLUSION: It may be concluded that early tracheostomy is beneficial in patients with isolated closed head injury which is severe enough to affect systemic physiological parameters, in terms of decreased mortality and intubation associated complications in centers where ICU care is not readily available. Also, in a selected group of patients, early tracheostomy may do away with the need for prolonged mechanical ventilation.

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