Decompressive Craniectomy

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Decompressive Craniectomy (DC) is used to treat elevated intracranial pressure that is unresponsive to conventional treatment modalities. The underlying cause of intracranial hypertension may vary and consequently there is a broad range of literature on the uses of this procedure. Traumatic brain injury (TBI), middle cerebral artery (MCA) infarction, and aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) are three conditions for which DC has been predominantly used in the past. Despite an increasing number of reports supportive of DC, the controversy over the suitability of the procedure and criteria for patient selection remains unresolved. Although the majority of published studies is retrospective, the recent publication of several randomized prospective studies prompts a reevaluation of the utility of DC. We review the literature concerning the use of DC in TBI, MCA infarction, and SAH and address the evidence regarding common questions pertaining to the timing of and laterality of the procedure. We conclude that at the time of this review, there still remains insufficient data to support the routine use of DC in TBI, stroke or SAH. There is evidence that early and aggressive use of DC in good-grade patients may improve outcome, but the notion that DC is indicated in these patients is contentious. At this point, the indication for DC should be individualized and its potential implications on long-term outcomes should be comprehensively discussed with the caregivers.

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