Effects of unilateral decompressive craniectomy on patients with unilateral acute post-traumatic brain swelling after severe traumatic brain injury

Crit Care. 2009;13(6):R185. doi: 10.1186/cc8178. Epub 2009 Nov 23.


Introduction: Acute post-traumatic brain swelling (BS) is one of the pathological forms that need emergent treatment following traumatic brain injury. There is controversy about the effects of craniotomy on acute post-traumatic BS. The aim of the present clinical study was to assess the efficacy of unilateral decompressive craniectomy (DC) or unilateral routine temporoparietal craniectomy on patients with unilateral acute post-traumatic BS.

Methods: Seventy-four patients of unilateral acute post-traumatic BS with midline shifting more than 5 mm were divided randomly into two groups: unilateral DC group (n = 37) and unilateral routine temporoparietal craniectomy group (control group, n = 37). The vital signs, the intracranial pressure (ICP), the Glasgow outcome scale (GOS), the mortality rate and the complications were prospectively analysed.

Results: The mean ICP values of patients in the unilateral DC group at hour 24, hour 48, hour 72 and hour 96 after injury were much lower than those of the control group (15.19 +/- 2.18 mmHg, 16.53 +/- 1.53 mmHg, 15.98 +/- 2.24 mmHg and 13.518 +/- 2.33 mmHg versus 19.95 +/- 2.24 mmHg, 18.32 +/- 1.77 mmHg, 21.05 +/- 2.23 mmHg and 17.68 +/- 1.40 mmHg, respectively). The mortality rates at 1 month after treatment were 27% in the unilateral DC group and 57% in the control group (p = 0.010). Good neurological outcome (GOS Score of 4 to 5) rates 1 year after injury for the groups were 56.8% and 32.4%, respectively (p = 0.035). The incidences of delayed intracranial hematoma and subdural effusion were 21.6% and 10.8% versus 5.4% and 0, respectively (p = 0.041 and 0.040).

Conclusions: Our data suggest that unilateral DC has superiority in lowering ICP, reducing the mortality rate and improving neurological outcomes over unilateral routine temporoparietal craniectomy. However, it increases the incidence of delayed intracranial hematomas and subdural effusion, some of which need secondary surgical intervention. These results provide information important for further large and multicenter clinical trials on the effects of DC in patients with acute post-traumatic BS.

Trial registration: ISRCTN14110527.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Edema / complications
  • Brain Edema / etiology*
  • Brain Edema / mortality
  • Brain Edema / surgery*
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Craniotomy / methods*
  • Female
  • Glasgow Coma Scale
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Hemorrhages / epidemiology
  • Intracranial Hemorrhages / etiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Subdural Effusion / epidemiology
  • Subdural Effusion / etiology
  • Survival Rate
  • Survivors
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN14110527