Relevance of early head CT scans following neurosurgical procedures: an analysis of 892 intracranial procedures at Rush University Medical Center

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  • Department of Neurosurgery, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois
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Object

Early postoperative head CT scanning is routinely performed following intracranial procedures for detection of complications, but its real value remains uncertain: so-called abnormal results are frequently found, but active, emergency intervention based on these findings may be rare. The authors' objective was to analyze whether early postoperative CT scans led to emergency surgical interventions and if the results of neurological examination predicted this occurrence.

Methods

The authors retrospectively analyzed 892 intracranial procedures followed by an early postoperative CT scan performed over a 1-year period at Rush University Medical Center and classified these cases according to postoperative neurological status: baseline, predicted neurological change, unexpected neurological change, and sedated or comatose. The interpretation of CT results was reviewed and unexpected CT findings were classified based on immediate action taken: Type I, additional observation and CT; Type II, active nonsurgical intervention; and Type III, surgical intervention. Results were compared between neurological examination groups with the Fisher exact test.

Results

Patients with unexpected neurological changes or in the sedated or comatose group had significantly more unexpected findings on the postoperative CT (p < 0.001; OR 19.2 and 2.3, respectively) and Type II/III interventions (p < 0.001) than patients at baseline. Patients at baseline or with expected neurological changes still had a rate of Type II/III changes in the 2.2%–2.4% range; however, no patient required an immediate return to the operating room.

Conclusions

Over a 1-year period in an academic neurosurgery service, no patient who was neurologically intact or who had a predicted neurological change required an immediate return to the operating room based on early postoperative CT findings. Obtaining early CT scans should not be a priority in these patients and may even be cancelled in favor of MRI studies, if the latter have already been planned and can be performed safely and in a timely manner. Early postoperative CT scanning does not assure an uneventful course, nor should it replace accurate and frequent neurological checks, because operative interventions were always decided in conjunction with the neurological examination.

Abbreviations used in this paper:

ICU = intensive care unit; RUMC = Rush University Medical Center; TBI = traumatic brain injury.

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