Intracranial pressure: to monitor or not to monitor?

A review of our experience with severe head injury

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  • 1 Divisions of Neurological Surgery, Neuroradiology, and Infectious Disease, and the Department of Biostatistics, Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia
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✓ The authors have analyzed their experience with intracranial pressure (ICP) monitoring in 207 patients over a 4-year period. Patients with either high-density or low-density lesions on computerized tomography (CT) at admission had a high incidence (53% to 63%) of intracranial hypertension (ICP persistently over 20 mm Hg). In contrast, patients with normal CT scans at admission had a relatively low incidence of ICP elevation (13%). Among these patients, three features were found to be strongly associated with the development of intracranial hypertension: 1) age over 40 years; 2) systolic blood pressure under 90 mm Hg; and 3) motor posturing — unilateral or bilateral. When two or more of these features were noted at admission, the incidence of intracranial hypertension was 60%, as compared to 4% when only one, or none, of these features were present. Thus, the patients at high risk for developing intracranial hypertension after severe head injury are those with abnormal CT scans at admission, and those with normal CT scans who demonstrate two or more of the above-mentioned adverse features. Based on these criteria, only 16% of this series of patients with normal CT scans would have qualified for monitoring.

In addition to the three clinical features noted above, multimodality evoked potential (MEP) studies were also found to be strong predictors of ICP elevation in the normal CT scan group, with a 75% incidence of intracranial hypertension in patients with disseminated deficits. There was no statistically significant correlation between the Glasgow Coma Scale score, eye movements, pupillary reaction, hypoxia, or anemia at admission and subsequent ICP elevation in the group with normal CT scans.

In this series, an intraventricular catheter was used as the sole monitoring device in 91% of the cases. In the remaining 9%, subarachnoid screws were employed, either alone, or upon failure of the ventriculostomy. While no mortality was directly ascribed to the monitoring process, there was a 7.7% complication rate (infection 6.3% + hemorrhage 1.4%). Eighty-five percent of the infections occurred in patients who had been monitored for 5 days or more, while no infections were noted in those monitored for less than 3 days. Used judiciously, this technique can be valuable in the monitoring and treatment of the brain-injured patient.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: Raj K. Narayan, M.D., Division of Neurological Surgery, Medical College of Virginia, Box 631, MCV Station, Richmond, Virginia 23298.
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