Complications of head injury and their therapy

Neurosurg Clin N Am. 1991 Apr;2(2):411-24.


Common intracranial complications following head injury are meningitis, usually associated with a basilar skull fracture or open-depressed skull fracture; delayed hematoma; hydrocephalus; and vascular injuries. Prophylactic antibiotics are not recommended for the management of basilar skull fractures. The best means of preventing infection from open-depressed skull fractures is operative debridement and thorough irrigation, though recent evidence suggests that select cases can be safely managed without operation. Serial CT scans should be obtained in severely head-injured patients to identify delayed hematomas. CT and MRI scans obtained several weeks or months after severe head injury frequently reveal enlarged ventricles, though only a small percentage of these patients have clinical hydrocephalus. Those that do, often benefit from a shunt. Vascular injuries frequently are not detected until ischemic symptoms develop hours or days after the injury. Recommended treatment for intimal tears or dissection is full anticoagulation, but in those with cerebral contusions or other intracranial lesions, this may present an unacceptable risk for intracranial hemorrhage. Pulmonary infections frequently occur following head injury, and can be associated with admission to the ICU and intubation. A large percentage of these infections are caused by enteric gram-negative organisms, and aggressive treatment with appropriate antibiotics is necessary. Aspiration of gastric contents is common in head-injured patients and is frequently complicated by bacterial superinfection. The routine use of antacids and H2 blocking agents leads to bacterial colonization of the stomach with anaerobes and gram-negative aerobes. Thus, empiric therapy for aspiration pneumonia should include clindamycin. Sinusitis is a frequent cause of fever and leukocytosis in patients with nasotracheal or nasogastric tubes in place for several days and often subsides spontaneously with removal of the tubes. Pulmonary edema is often caused by excessive fluid administration during resuscitation of these patients, and can be avoided by monitoring central venous pressures. Pulmonary edema may also be caused by ARDS, excessive catecholamine release, or primary cardiac failure. Most of these patients will benefit from early intubation and PEEP. Pulmonary emboli most often originate from deep venous thrombi, and there is increasing evidence that prophylaxis with low-dose heparin and pulsating boots can significantly reduce the incidence of both complications. Erosive gastritis is found in the majority of severely head-injured patients and may be due to ischemia of the gastric mucosa as well as gastric hyperacidity.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Brain Injuries / therapy
  • Brain Ischemia / therapy
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / therapy
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hydrocephalus / therapy
  • Meningitis / therapy
  • Risk Factors