Contemporary management of traumatic intracranial hypertension: is there a role for therapeutic hypothermia?

Neurocrit Care. 2009 Dec;11(3):427-36. doi: 10.1007/s12028-009-9256-2.


Objective: Intracranial hypertension (ICH) remains the single most difficult therapeutic challenge for the acute management of severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). We reviewed the published trials of therapeutic moderate hypothermia to determine its effect on ICH and compared its efficacy to other commonly used therapies for ICH.

Methods: A PubMed database search was done using various combinations of the search terms "brain injury," "therapeutic hypothermia," "intracranial hypertension," "barbiturates," "mannitol," "hypertonic saline," "hyperventilation," "decompressive craniectomy," and "CSF drainage."

Results: We identified 11 prospective randomized clinical TBI trials comparing hypothermia vs. normothermia treatment for which intracranial pressure (ICP) data was provided, and 6 prospective cohort studies that provided ICP data before and during hypothermia treatment. In addition, we identified 37 clinical TBI studies of lumbar CSF drainage, mannitol, hyperventilation, barbiturates, hypertonic saline, and decompressive craniectomy that provided pre- and posttreatment ICP data. Hypothermia was at least as effective as the traditional therapies for ICH (hyperventilation, mannitol, and barbiturates), but was less effective than hypertonic saline, lumbar CSF drainage, and decompressive craniectomy. Ultimately, however, therapeutic hypothermia does appear to have a favorable risk/benefit profile.

Conclusion: Therapeutic moderate hypothermia is as effective, or more effective, than most other treatments for ICH. If used for 2-3 days or less there is no evidence that it causes clinically significant adverse events. The lack of consistent evidence that hypothermia improves long-term neurologic outcome should not preclude consideration of its use for the primary treatment of ICH since no other ICP therapy is held to this standard.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries / complications
  • Brain Injuries / therapy*
  • Critical Care / methods*
  • Humans
  • Hypothermia, Induced*
  • Intracranial Hypertension / etiology
  • Intracranial Hypertension / therapy*