The natural history of brain contusion: an analysis of radiological and clinical progression

J Neurosurg. 2010 May;112(5):1139-45. doi: 10.3171/2009.5.JNS081369.


Object: Although brain contusions are a common neurosurgical condition, surprisingly little has been written about their natural history. The purpose of this study was to identify factors that predict radiological and clinically significant progression of this pattern of traumatic brain injury in patients who did not initially require surgery. On the basis of their results and the available literature, the authors suggest a management algorithm.

Methods: The authors performed a retrospective review of clinical and radiological records of consecutive patients with brain contusions who initially underwent conservative treatment. Significant radiological progression was defined as a 30% increase in contusion size on CT scans. Statistical analysis was performed to identify clinical and radiological predictors of CT contusion progression, the significance of progression, and predictors of clinical outcome.

Results: Of 98 patients identified with brain contusions who initially received conservative treatment, 44 (45%) had significant progression on CT, and 19 (19%) required surgical intervention. The initial size of the contusion and the presence of subdural hematoma were the only statistically significant predictors of CT progression in the multivariate analysis (p = 0.0212 and 0.05, respectively). Four patients required delayed contusion evacuation (3 had radiological progression on follow-up scans). Good Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) scores on presentation and younger age were predictors of eventual discharge from the hospital (OR 1.471, CI 1.233-1.755, p < 0.001 and OR 0.949, CI 0.912-0.988, p = 0.011, respectively). No patients with an initial GCS score of 15 or an initial contusion size < 14 ml required delayed evacuation.

Conclusions: Contusion progression is a common phenomenon that is seen more commonly in larger contusions. Patients with large contusions and low initial GCS scores are at risk for delayed deterioration. A proposed management algorithm for patients with contusions initially treated conservatively may help practitioners identify the best course of treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Brain Injuries / surgery
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disease Progression
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Hematoma, Subdural / diagnostic imaging
  • Hematoma, Subdural / etiology
  • Hematoma, Subdural / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / methods
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*