Surgery versus conservative treatment for traumatic acute subdural haematoma: a prospective, multicentre, observational, comparative effectiveness study

Lancet Neurol. 2022 Jul;21(7):620-631. doi: 10.1016/S1474-4422(22)00166-1. Epub 2022 May 5.


Background: Despite being well established, acute surgery in traumatic acute subdural haematoma is based on low-grade evidence. We aimed to compare the effectiveness of a strategy preferring acute surgical evacuation with one preferring initial conservative treatment in acute subdural haematoma.

Methods: We did a prospective, observational, comparative effectiveness study using data from participants enrolled in the Collaborative European Neurotrauma Effectiveness Research in Traumatic Brain Injury (CENTER-TBI) cohort. We included patients with no pre-existing severe neurological disorders who presented with acute subdural haematoma within 24 h of traumatic brain injury. Using an instrumental variable analysis, we compared outcomes between centres according to treatment preference for acute subdural haematoma (acute surgical evacuation or initial conservative treatment), measured by the case-mix-adjusted percentage of acute surgery per centre. The primary endpoint was functional outcome at 6 months as rated with the Glasgow Outcome Scale Extended, which was estimated with ordinal regression as a common odds ratio (OR) and adjusted for prespecified confounders. Variation in centre preference was quantified with the median OR (MOR). CENTER-TBI is registered with, number NCT02210221, and the Resource Identification Portal (Research Resource Identifier SCR_015582).

Findings: Between Dec 19, 2014 and Dec 17, 2017, 4559 patients with traumatic brain injury were enrolled in CENTER-TBI, of whom 1407 (31%) presented with acute subdural haematoma and were included in our study. Acute surgical evacuation was done in 336 (24%) patients, by craniotomy in 245 (73%) of those patients and by decompressive craniectomy in 91 (27%). Delayed decompressive craniectomy or craniotomy after initial conservative treatment (n=982) occurred in 107 (11%) patients. The percentage of patients who underwent acute surgery ranged from 5·6% to 51·5% (IQR 12·3-35·9) between centres, with a two-times higher probability of receiving acute surgery for an identical patient in one centre versus another centre at random (adjusted MOR for acute surgery 1·8; p<0·0001]). Centre preference for acute surgery over initial conservative treatment was not associated with improvements in functional outcome (common OR per 23·6% [IQR increase] more acute surgery in a centre 0·92, 95% CI 0·77-1·09).

Interpretation: Our findings show that treatment for patients with acute subdural haematoma with similar characteristics differed depending on the treating centre, because of variation in the preferred approach. A treatment strategy preferring an aggressive approach of acute surgical evacuation over initial conservative treatment was not associated with better functional outcome. Therefore, in a patient with acute subdural haematoma for whom a neurosurgeon sees no clear superiority for acute surgery over conservative treatment, initial conservative treatment might be considered.

Funding: The Hersenstichting Nederland (also known as the Dutch Brain Foundation), the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme, the Hannelore Kohl Stiftung (Germany), OneMind (USA), Integra LifeSciences Corporation (USA), and NeuroTrauma Sciences (USA).

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries, Traumatic*
  • Conservative Treatment
  • Glasgow Outcome Scale
  • Hematoma, Subdural, Acute* / etiology
  • Hematoma, Subdural, Acute* / surgery
  • Humans
  • Prospective Studies

Associated data