Diffuse cerebral swelling following head injuries in children: the syndrome of "malignant brain edema"

J Neurosurg. 1981 Feb;54(2):170-8. doi: 10.3171/jns.1981.54.2.0170.


The commonest initial computerized tomography (CT) finding in head-injured children is bilateral diffuse cerebral swelling. Cerebral blood flow and CT density studies suggest that this swelling is due to cerebral hyperemia and increased blood volume, not to edema. The clinical history, course, and outcome of 63 children with this CT pattern are reviewed. Fourteen children had a Glasgow Coma Scale score of greater than 8; all made a complete recovery and follow-up CT scans were normal. Forty-nine children had Glasgow Coma Scale scores of 8 or less. Fifteen had a history of a lucid period following the initial unconsciousness. One of these children died of delayed brain swelling, the others recovered well with minimal neurological deficit. Thirty-four children were rendered immediately and continuously unconscious. There was a high incidence of second lesions on the CT scan, 50% of this group developed intracranial hypertension and five died. All of the others were in coma for periods ranging from weeks to months. Follow-up CT scans showed an extracerebral collection with a density of cerebrospinal fluid in 27% of the patients, and ventriculomegaly with large sulci in 35%, whereas this pattern was seen only once in those with a lucid period. The difference between those with and without a lucid period is related to the degree of primary diffuse impact injury to the white matter.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Edema / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Edema / etiology*
  • Brain Edema / physiopathology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Coma / etiology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / complications*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Pseudotumor Cerebri / etiology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed