Dexamethasone treatment in chronic subdural haematoma

Neurocirugia (Astur). 2009 Aug;20(4):346-59. doi: 10.1016/s1130-1473(09)70154-x.


Introduction: Neurosurgeons are familiar with chronic subdural haematoma (CSH), a well-known clinical entity, which is usually treated by some modality of trepanation. Despite the excellent outcomes obtained by surgery, complications may occur, some of which may be potentially severe or fatal. Furthermore, up to 25% recurrence rate is reported. The authors present a novel approach to the management of CSH based on the use of dexamethasone as the treatment of choice in the majority of cases.

Patients and methods: Medical records of 122 CSH patients were retrospectively reviewed. At admission, symptomatic patients were classified according to the Markwalder Grading Score (MGS). Those scoring MGS 1-2 were assigned to the Dexamethasone protocol (4 mg every 8h, re-evaluation after 48-72 h, slow tapering), and those scoring MGS 3-4 were, in general, assigned to the Surgical protocol (single frontal twistdrill drainage to a closed system, without irrigation). Patients were followed in the Outpatient Office with neurological assessment and serial CT scans. RESULTS. Between March 2001 and May 2006, 122 consecutive CSH patients (69% male, median aged of 78, range 25-97) were treated. Seventy-three percent of the patients exhibited some kind of neurological defect (MGS 2-3-4). Asymptomatic patients (MGS 0) were left untreated. Initial treatment assignment was: 101 dexamethasone, 15 subdural drain, 4 craneotomy and 2 untreated. Twenty-two patients on dexamethasone ultimately required surgical drain (21.8%). Favourable outcome (MGS 0-1-2) was obtained in 96% and 93.9% of those treated with dexamethasone and surgical drain, respectively. Median hospital stay was 6 days (range 1- 41) for the dexamethasone group and the whole series, and 8 days (range 5-48) for the surgical group. Overall mortality rate was 0.8% and re-admissions related to the haematoma reached 14.7% (all maintained or improved their MGS). Medical complications occurred in 34 patients (27.8%), mainly mild hyperglycemic impairments. Median outpatient follow up was 25 weeks (range 8-90), and two patients were lost.

Discussion: The rationale for the use of dexamethasone in CSH lies in its anti-angiogenic properties over the subdural clot membrane, as it is derived from experimental studies and the very few clinical observations published. Surgical evacuation of CSH is known to achieve excellent results but no well-designed trials compare medical versus surgical therapies. The experience obtained from this series lets us formulate some clinical considerations: dexamethasone is a feasible treatment that positively compares to surgical drain (and avoided two thirds of operations); the natural history of CSH allows a 48-72 h dexamethasone trial without putting the patient at risk of irreversible deterioration; eliminates all morbidity related to surgery and recurrences; does not provoke significant morbidity itself; reduces hospital stay; does not preclude ulterior surgical procedures; it is well tolerated and understood by the patient and relatives and it probably reduces costs. The authors propose a protocol that does not intend to substitute surgery but to offer a safe and effective alternative.

Conclusion: Data obtained from this large retrospective series suggests that dexamethasone is a feasible and safe option in the management of CSH. In the author's experience dexamethasone was able to cure or improve two thirds of the patients. This fact should be confirmed by others in the future. The true effectiveness of the therapy as compared to surgical treatment could be ideally tested in a prospective randomized trial.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications
  • Craniotomy
  • Dexamethasone / adverse effects
  • Dexamethasone / therapeutic use*
  • Drainage
  • Drug Evaluation
  • Female
  • Hematoma, Subdural, Chronic / diagnostic imaging
  • Hematoma, Subdural, Chronic / drug therapy*
  • Hematoma, Subdural, Chronic / epidemiology
  • Hematoma, Subdural, Chronic / etiology
  • Hematoma, Subdural, Chronic / physiopathology
  • Hematoma, Subdural, Chronic / surgery
  • Humans
  • Hyperglycemia / chemically induced
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Recurrence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Unnecessary Procedures


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Dexamethasone