Severe head trauma. Review of the factors influencing the prognosis

Minerva Chir. 1997 Dec;52(12):1467-80.


A series of 72 severely head injured patients are reported, 24 (33%) with surgical intracranial hematomas. All patients were intensively cared for under the same therapeutic regime; intracranial pressure (ICP) was monitored and treated if increased. The series mortality was 39%. Uncontrollable increase of ICP (UI-ICP), always fatal, was observed in 18% of patients and in 13 of 28 deaths (46%); the incidence of UI-ICP among deaths was higher in patients less than in those more than 40 years old (55% vs 25%). Patients with UI-ICP were frequently deeply comatose and with arterial hypotension on admission; almost all died in the first days. Patients directly admitted from the scene with well staffed Life Flight Helicopter Emergency Care compared with those directly admitted from the scene with different type of ambulance service (paramedics, police, firemen and private) had a mortality rate significantly less (20% vs 54%) and an incidence of UI-ICP strongly lower both among patients (5% vs 29%) and among deaths (25% vs 54%). Thus in this small series intensive care after admission was not effective to obtain good results if patients had received poor preadmission emergency care. Review of the literature on main clinical predictors of outcome in severe head injury, have made possible some observations. Ischemic and intracranial hypertension brain lesions were generally present in patients killed by head trauma; while diffuse axonal injury, frequently responsible for vegetative, severe disability survival and late deaths, was observed only in 20-30% of postmortem examinations. Old age, poor neurological status and cardiocirculatory and respiratory disturbances prior to and upon admission positively worsened the outcome, while intracranial hematomas had a more variable predictive value. Intracranial hypertension was a definitively ominous predictor only if very high when the risk to be or become uncontrollable seems to be much elevated. UI-ICP, often fatal despite any aggressive therapy, was the single most frequent killer after severe head injury, responsible for about half of all deaths after admission. The different outcome among severe head injury series could be conceivably related to a different frequency of UI-ICP. Besides the severity of head injury and delay and mode of admission, we suggest that preadmission respiratory and cardiocirculatory and the quality of emergency medical system could strongly affect the incidence of uncontrollable increase of ICP in admitted patients and thus the mortality rate and favorable recovery of the series. The advanced preadmission emergency care service with intensive care after admission could significantly explain the better results often observed in severe head injury series.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Child
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / diagnosis*
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / mortality
  • Emergencies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nebraska / epidemiology
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Treatment Outcome