Do long-term results justify decompressive craniectomy after severe traumatic brain injury?

Matthias H Morgalla, Bernd E Will, Florian Roser, Marcos Tatagiba
Journal of Neurosurgery 2008, 109 (4): 685-90

OBJECT: A decompressive craniectomy can be a life-saving procedure to relieve critically increased intracranial pressure. The survival of a patient is important as well as the subsequent and long-term quality of life. In this paper the authors' goal was to investigate whether long-term clinical results justify the use of a decompressive craniectomy.

METHODS: Thirty-three patients (20 males and 13 females) with a mean age of 36.3 years (range 13-60 years) with severe traumatic brain injury (Grades III and IV) and subsequent massive brain swelling were examined. For postoperative assessment the Barthel Index was used. A surgical intervention was based on the following criteria: 1) The intracranial pressure could not be controlled by conservative treatment and constantly exceeded 30 mm Hg (cerebral perfusion pressure<50 mm Hg). 2) Transcranial Doppler ultrasonography revealed only a systolic flow pattern or systolic peaks. 3) There were no other major injuries. 4) The patient was not older than 60 years.

RESULTS: One-fifth of all patients died and one-fifth remained in a vegetative state. Mild deficits were seen in 6 of 33 patients. A full rehabilitation (Barthel Index 90-100) was achieved in 13 patients (39.4%). Five patients could resume their former occupation, and another 4 had to change jobs.

CONCLUSIONS: Age remains to be one of the most important exclusion factors. Decompressive craniectomy provided good clinical results in nearly 40% of patients who were otherwise most likely to die. Therefore, long-term results justify the use of decompressive craniectomy in this case series.

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