Surgical decompression for traumatic brain swelling: indications and results

J Neurosurg. 1999 Feb;90(2):187-96. doi: 10.3171/jns.1999.90.2.0187.


Object: Decompressive craniectomy has been performed since 1977 in patients with traumatic brain injury. The authors assess the efficacy of this treatment and the indications for its use.

Methods: The clinical status of the 57 patients, their computerized tomography (CT) scans, and intracranial pressure (ICP) levels were documented prospectively in a standard protocol. At the beginning of the study, all patients older than 30 years were excluded. As of 1989 patients older than 40 years were excluded until 1991; since that time patients older than 50 years have been excluded. Primary brain or brainstem injury with fully developed bulbar brain syndrome, loss of auditory evoked potentials (AEPs), and/or oscillation flow in a transcranial Doppler ultrasound examination were contraindications to decompressive craniectomy. A positive indication for decompression was given in the case of progressive therapy-resistant intracranial hypertension in correlation with clinical (Glasgow Coma Scale [GCS] score, decerebrate posturing, dilating of pupils) and electrophysiological (electroencephalography, somatosensory evoked potentials, and AEPs) parameters and with findings on CT scans. Unilateral decompressive craniectomy was performed in 31 patients and bilateral craniectomy in 26 patients. In all cases, a wide frontotemporoparietal craniectomy was followed by a dura enlargement covered with temporal muscle fascia. The outcomes of the treatment were surprisingly good. Only 11 patients (19%) died, three of whom died of acute respiratory disease syndrome. Five patients (9%) survived, but remained in a persistent vegetative state; six patients (11%) survived with a severe permanent neurological deficit, and 33 patients (58%) attained social rehabilitation. Two patients (3.5%) did not have a follow-up examination. The GCS score on the 1st day posttrauma and the mean ICP turned out to be the best predictors for a good prognosis. The results demonstrate the importance of decompressive craniectomy in the treatment of traumatic brain swelling.

Conclusions: Surgical decompression should be routinely performed when indicated before irreversible ischemic brain damage occurs.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Edema / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Edema / etiology*
  • Brain Edema / surgery*
  • Brain Injuries / complications*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Craniotomy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intracranial Pressure / physiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Postoperative Period
  • Prospective Studies
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Treatment Outcome