The management of “asymptomatic” epidural hematomas

A prospective study

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  • 1 Program in Neurosurgery, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Brown University and Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island
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✓ Standard neurosurgical management mandates prompt evacuation of all epidural hematomas to obtain a low incidence of mortality and morbidity. This dogma has recently been challenged. A number of authors have suggested that in selected cases small and moderate epidural hematomas may be managed conservatively with a normal outcome and without risk to the patient. The goal of this study was to define the clinical parameters that may aide in the management of patients with small epidural hematomas who were clinically asymptomatic at initial presentation because there was no clinical evidence of raised intracranial pressure or focal compression. A prospective study was conducted of 22 patients (17 males and five females) aged from 1 to 71 years, who had a small epidural hematoma diagnosed within 24 hours of trauma and were managed expectantly. Of these, 32% subsequently required evacuation of the epidural hematoma 1 to 10 days after the initial trauma.

Analysis of the patients revealed that age, sex, Glasgow Coma Scale score, and initial size of the hematoma are not risk factors for deterioration. However, deterioration was seen in 55% of patients with a skull fracture transversing a meningeal artery, vein, or major sinus, and in 43% of those undergoing computerized tomography (CT) within 6 hours of trauma. In contrast, only 13% of patients in whom the diagnosis of a small epidural hematoma was delayed over 6 hours subsequently required evacuation of the epidural collection. Of patients with both risk factors, 71% required evacuation of the epidural hematoma. None of the patients suffered neurological sequelae attributable to this management protocol.

It was concluded that patients with a small epidural hematoma, a fracture overlaying a major vessel or major sinus, and/or who are diagnosed less than 6 hours after trauma are at risk of subsequent deterioration and may require evacuation. Conversely, patients without these risk factors may be managed conservatively with repeat CT and careful neurological observation, because of the low risk of delayed deterioration.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: Neville W. Knuckey, F.R.A.C.S., 110 Lockwood Street, Providence, Rhode Island 02903.
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