Current status and outlook for the management of intracranial hypertension after traumatic brain injury: decompressive craniectomy, therapeutic hypothermia, and barbiturates

Neurologia (Engl Ed). 2020 Oct 14;S0213-4853(20)30274-7. doi: 10.1016/j.nrl.2020.08.007. Online ahead of print.
[Article in English, Spanish]


Introduction: Increased intracranial pressure has been associated with poor neurological outcomes and increased mortality in patients with severe traumatic brain injury. Traditionally, intracranial pressure-lowering therapies are administered using an escalating approach, with more aggressive options reserved for patients showing no response to first-tier interventions, or with refractory intracranial hypertension.

Development: The therapeutic value and the appropriate timing for the use of rescue treatments for intracranial hypertension have been a subject of constant debate in literature. In this review, we discuss the main management options for refractory intracranial hypertension after severe traumatic brain injury in adults. We intend to conduct an in-depth revision of the most representative randomised controlled trials on the different rescue treatments, including decompressive craniectomy, therapeutic hypothermia, and barbiturates. We also discuss future perspectives for these management options.

Conclusions: The available evidence appears to show that mortality can be reduced when rescue interventions are used as last-tier therapy; however, this benefit comes at the cost of severe disability. The decision of whether to perform these interventions should always be patient-centred and made on an individual basis. The development and integration of different physiological variables through multimodality monitoring is of the utmost importance to provide more robust prognostic information to patients facing these challenging decisions.

Keywords: Barbiturates; Barbitúricos; Craniectomía descompresiva; Decompressive craniectomy; Hipertensión intracraneal refractaria; Hipotermia terapéutica; Refractory intracranial hypertension; Therapeutic hypothermia; Traumatic brain injury; Traumatismo craneoencefálico.

Publication types

  • Review