Delayed coma in head injury: consider cerebral fat embolism

Clin Neurol Neurosurg. 2009 Sep;111(7):597-600. doi: 10.1016/j.clineuro.2009.03.005. Epub 2009 Apr 24.


Objective: To describe a case of a young man with delayed coma after mild head injury, suggestive of cerebral fat embolism (CFE). To underline the value of MR imaging in the differential diagnosis of secondary deterioration in mild head injury.

Case report: A 21-year-old man admitted with mild head injury after a fall with facial fractures and long bone fractures. He was admitted to the intensive care unit and was mechanically ventilated. Weaning was not possible because of desaturations and pulmonary congestion. Low platelet count and anaemia developed. On several time points during his admission cerebral imaging data were obtained. Non-contrast CT on admission was normal while follow-up MRI showed extensive white matter abnormalities. These imaging abnormalities combined with the clinical presentation suggests cerebral fat embolism (CFE) as the most likely cause of secondary deterioration in our patient.

Conclusions: In head injured patients with long bone fractures one should consider cerebral fat embolism. When the classical clinical syndrome is not present, MR imaging is warranted for diagnosis and to exclude other causes of secondary deterioration.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Edema / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Edema / pathology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / psychology
  • Coma / etiology*
  • Coma / psychology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / psychology
  • Embolism, Fat / complications*
  • Embolism, Fat / diagnosis
  • Embolism, Fat / psychology
  • Fractures, Bone / complications
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Embolism / complications*
  • Intracranial Embolism / diagnosis
  • Intracranial Embolism / psychology
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Male
  • Respiration, Artificial
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Young Adult