Cranioplasty is a technically simple procedure, although one with potentially high rates of complications. The ideal timing of cranioplasty should minimize the risk of complications, but research investigating cranioplasty timing and risk of complications has generated diverse findings. Previous studies have included mixed populations of patients undergoing cranioplasty following decompression for traumatic, vascular, and other cerebral insults, making results challenging to interpret. The objective of the current study was to examine rates of complications associated with cranioplasty, specifically for patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) receiving this procedure at the authors’ high-volume level 1 trauma center over a 25-year time period.
A single-institution retrospective review was conducted of patients undergoing cranioplasty after decompression for trauma. Patients were identified and clinical and demographic variables obtained from 2 neurotrauma databases. Patients were categorized into 3 groups based on timing of cranioplasty: early (≤ 90 days after craniectomy), intermediate (91–180 days after craniectomy), and late (> 180 days after craniectomy). In addition, a subgroup analysis of complications in patients with TBI associated with ultra-early cranioplasty (< 42 days, or 6 weeks, after craniectomy) was performed.
Of 435 patients identified, 141 patients underwent early cranioplasty, 187 patients received intermediate cranioplasty, and 107 patients underwent late cranioplasty. A total of 54 patients underwent ultra-early cranioplasty. Among the total cohort, the mean rate of postoperative hydrocephalus was 2.8%, the rate of seizure was 4.6%, the rate of postoperative hematoma was 3.4%, and the rate of infection was 6.0%. The total complication rate for the entire population was 16.8%. There was no significant difference in complications between any of the 3 groups. No significant differences in postoperative complications were found comparing the ultra-early cranioplasty group with all other patients combined.
In this cohort of patients with TBI, early cranioplasty, including ultra-early procedures, was not associated with higher rates of complications. Early cranioplasty may confer benefits such as shorter or fewer hospitalizations, decreased financial burden, and overall improved recovery, and should be considered based on patient-specific factors.
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