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Christian Foerch, Josef M. Lang, Jochen Krause, Andreas Raabe, Matthias Sitzer, Volker Seifert, Helmuth Steinmetz, and Kirn R. Kessler

Object. Whether decompressive hemicraniectomy is an appropriate treatment for space-occupying middle cerebral artery (MCA) infarction is still a controversial issue. Previous studies are in agreement on a reduction of the mortality rate, but the reported functional outcome was highly variable. The authors sought to determine functional impairment, disability, and health-related quality of life (QOL) outcome in long-term survivors who had undergone this procedure, and tried to identify factors related to functional outcome.

Methods. The study included 36 consecutive patients (mean age 58.8 ± 12.7 years, 20 men and 16 women) who underwent decompressive hemicraniectomy for treatment of malignant MCA infarction (29 on the right and seven on the left side; mean time to surgery 37.8 ± 20 hours). The survival rate was determined at 6 months: 13.7 ± 6.7 months after the stroke, a cross-sectional personal investigation of survivors was performed to assess functional impairment, disability, and health-related QOL.

Survival rates were 78% at 6 months and 64% at the time of the follow-up investigation; one patient was lost to follow up. Sixteen of 22 long-term survivors lived at home. The median Barthel Index (BI) was 45 (25th and 75th percentile 19 and 71) and the BI correlated negatively with patient age (r = −0.58, p = 0.005). Three patients reached a BI of at least 90. Older age, more severe neurological deficit on admission, and longer duration of intensive care treatment and mechanical ventilation were significantly associated with worse disability (BI < 50). The health-related QOL was considerably impaired in the subscales of mobility, household management, and body care.

Conclusions. Decompressive hemicraniectomy improves survival in patients with malignant MCA infarction when compared with earlier reports of conservative treatment alone. Functional outcome and QOL remain markedly impaired, especially among elderly patients and in those with a severe neurological deficit at admission.