Objective: Determine national patterns of measuring and treating agitation after traumatic brain injury (TBI) by physiatrists with expressed interest in treating TBI survivors.
Design: A 70% random sample of members of the Brain Injury Special Interest Group of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation was surveyed by telephone.
Main outcome measure: The survey instrument was designed to determine the most common pharmacologic interventions for agitation and, where possible, match each drug with the target behavioral and cognitive characteristics for which it is prescribed. Data were also collected on the manner in which participants measured agitation and judged treatment efficacy.
Results: One hundred twenty-nine of 157 responded, yielding an 82% response rate. The majority of respondents were not measuring agitation in a standard fashion. The five most frequently prescribed drugs by the expert stratum were carbamazepine, tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), trazodone, amantadine, and beta-blockers. In comparison, the nonexperts most often reported prescribing carbamazepine, beta-blockers, haloperidol, TCAs, and benzodiazepines. Desyrel (p = .06) and amantadine (p = .001) were significantly more likely to be chosen by experts than by nonexperts. Experts chose haloperidol significantly less often than nonexperts (p = .01). Prescription of sedating drugs such as haloperidol or benzodiazepines was not found to be associated with the acuity of injury of TBI patients in the respondent's practice, practice setting, or years of practice since completing residency. Choice of haloperidol to treat agitation was not significantly associated with the degree to which explosive anger, verbal aggression, or physical aggression were considered important to the respondent's definition of agitation.
Conclusions: The majority of physiatrists surveyed did not formally measure agitation. Treatment strategies differ significantly between general physiatrists and those who specialize in the treatment of patients with TBI. The breadth of pharmacologic agents and strategies identified in this survey probably reflects the lack of research specific to the pathophysiology of the disorder of posttraumatic agitation.