Tranexamic acid to reduce head injury death in people with traumatic brain injury: the CRASH-3 international RCT

Health Technol Assess. 2021 Apr;25(26):1-76. doi: 10.3310/hta25260.


Background: Tranexamic acid safely reduces mortality in traumatic extracranial bleeding. Intracranial bleeding is common after traumatic brain injury and can cause brain herniation and death. We assessed the effects of tranexamic acid in traumatic brain injury patients.

Objective: To assess the effects of tranexamic acid on death, disability and vascular occlusive events in traumatic brain injury patients. We also assessed cost-effectiveness.

Design: Randomised trial and economic evaluation. Patients were assigned by selecting a numbered treatment pack from a box containing eight packs that were identical apart from the pack number. Patients, caregivers and those assessing outcomes were masked to allocation. All analyses were by intention to treat. We assessed the cost-effectiveness of tranexamic acid versus no treatment from a UK NHS perspective using the trial results and a Markov model.

Setting: 175 hospitals in 29 countries.

Participants: Adults with traumatic brain injury within 3 hours of injury with a Glasgow Coma Scale score of ≤ 12 or any intracranial bleeding on computerised tomography scan, and no major extracranial bleeding, were eligible.

Intervention: Tranexamic acid (loading dose 1 g over 10 minutes then infusion of 1 g over 8 hours) or matching placebo.

Main outcome measures: Head injury death in hospital within 28 days of injury in patients treated within 3 hours of injury. Secondary outcomes were early head injury deaths, all-cause and cause-specific mortality, disability, vascular occlusive events, seizures, complications and adverse events.

Results: Among patients treated within 3 hours of injury (n = 9127), the risk of head injury death was 18.5% in the tranexamic acid group versus 19.8% in the placebo group (855/4613 vs. 892/4514; risk ratio 0.94, 95% confidence interval 0.86 to 1.02). In a prespecified analysis excluding patients with a Glasgow Coma Scale score of 3 or bilateral unreactive pupils at baseline, the results were 12.5% in the tranexamic acid group versus 14.0% in the placebo group (485/3880 vs. 525/3757; risk ratio 0.89, 95% confidence interval 0.80 to 1.00). There was a reduction in the risk of head injury death with tranexamic acid in those with mild to moderate head injury (166/2846 vs. 207/2769; risk ratio 0.78, 95% confidence interval 0.64 to 0.95), but in those with severe head injury (689/1739 vs. 685/1710; risk ratio 0.99, 95% confidence interval 0.91 to 1.07) there was no apparent reduction (p-value for heterogeneity = 0.030). Early treatment was more effective in mild and moderate head injury (p = 0.005), but there was no obvious impact of time to treatment in cases of severe head injury (p = 0.73). The risk of disability, vascular occlusive events and seizures was similar in both groups. Tranexamic acid is highly cost-effective for mild and moderate traumatic brain injury (base case of £4288 per quality-adjusted life-year gained).

Conclusion: Early tranexamic acid treatment reduces head injury deaths. Treatment is cost-effective for patients with mild or moderate traumatic brain injury, or those with both pupils reactive.

Future work: Further trials should examine early tranexamic acid treatment in mild head injury. Research on alternative routes of administration is needed.

Limitations: Time to treatment may have been underestimated.

Trial registration: Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN15088122, NCT01402882, EudraCT 2011-003669-14, Pan African Clinical Trial Registry PACTR20121000441277.

Funding: The project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 25, No. 26. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information. In addition, funding was provided by JP Moulton Charitable Trust, Joint Global Health Trials (Medical Research Council, Department for International Development and the Wellcome Trust). This project was funded by the NIHR Global Health Trials programme.


Plain Language Summary

Traumatic brain injury is a leading cause of death and disability worldwide, with over 60 million new cases each year. When the head is injured there is often bleeding inside the brain, which can continue for some time and worsen after hospital admission. This bleeding increases pressure inside the skull, causing further damage to the brain, which can be fatal or result in serious disability. Tranexamic acid is a cheap drug that reduces bleeding in other conditions. A large trial of accident victims (other than those with head injury) found that it reduced the chances of bleeding to death. We wanted to find out if tranexamic acid would also reduce deaths among patients with head injuries. We studied just under 13,000 patients with traumatic brain injury who did not have other major injuries to their bodies from 175 hospitals across 29 countries. Patients were assigned at random to receive either tranexamic acid or a dummy medicine called a placebo. Neither the clinical team nor the patient knew which medicine the patient received. All patients received the usual treatments given to head-injured patients. Outcomes from 9127 participants were analysed. Among patients treated early, within 3 hours, the rate of head injury death was 18.5% (855/4613) in the tranexamic acid group and 19.8% (892/4514) in the placebo group. We found no evidence of an effect of tranexamic acid overall. However, in patients with mild or moderate traumatic brain injury, there was a 20% reduction in deaths. There were no side effects and no increase in disability in survivors when the drug was used. The economic analysis shows that tranexamic acid represents value for money for patients with mild or moderate traumatic brain injury.

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN15088122