Normal computerized tomography scans in severe head injury. Prognostic and clinical management implications

J Neurosurg. 1986 Dec;65(6):784-9. doi: 10.3171/jns.1986.65.6.0784.


The authors analyze the clinical course of 46 severely head-injured patients who had completely normal computerized tomography (CT) scans through the immediate posttraumatic period (1 to 7 days after trauma). These patients represent 10.2% of a consecutive series of 448 cases of severe head injuries and two-thirds of the cases showing a normal CT scan on admission (the other one-third of the cases developed new pathology). The usual course in these 46 patients after the initial coma was toward progressive neurological improvement, and 35 patients (76%) achieved a functional level of survival. Nine patients (19.5%) remained comatose for several weeks and developed severe disability. There were two fatalities due to medical complications. The final outcome was more closely related to the duration of coma (the longer the duration the worse the result) than to the initial Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) score. In fact, 26% of the patients in the lower GCS score ranges (3 to 4 points) made a good recovery and 46% developed moderate disability only. These findings indicate that the grim prognostic significance of deep posttraumatic coma is tempered in the presence of a normal scan. However, the absence of CT abnormalities in severely head-injured patients cannot be equated with a good prognosis because in one-fifth of the cases serious permanent disability develops. Sustained elevation of the intracranial pressure (ICP) was not seen in these patients, indicating that ICP monitoring may be omitted in cases with a normal scan. However, since one-third of the patients with a normal admission scan developed new pathology within the first few days of injury, a strategy for control scanning is recommended. Control CT scans performed more than 6 months after injury showed a significantly higher incidence of brain atrophy in patients developing permanent disability than in those who made a good recovery.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Intracranial Pressure
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*