Cranial Extradural Empyema in the Era of Computed Tomography: A Review of 82 Cases

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Intracranial suppurative disorders (abscesses and empyemas) continue to be common neurosurgical emergencies in South Africa. Cranial extradural empyema (EDE) occurs less frequently than its subdural counterpart but remains a potentially devastating disease process. We present our 15-year experience with this condition in the era of computed tomography.


Of the 4623 patients with intracranial sepsis who were admitted to the neurosurgical unit at Wentworth Hospital (Durban, South Africa) during a 15-year period (1983-1997), 76 patients with EDEs were identified. An additional six patients who were identified from our outpatient records were treated nonsurgically. Analyses were performed with respect to clinical, radiological, bacteriological, surgical, and outcome data. All information for this study was obtained from the computerized databank for the unit. Statistical analyses of the related pre- and postoperative clinical data were performed.


The 76 patients with EDEs accounted for 1.6% of the total number of patients admitted for treatment of intracranial sepsis during the study period. Thirteen patients (15.8%) had infratentorial pus collections. Male patients predominated by a ratio of 2:1, and 66 patients were between the ages of 6 and 20 years (mean age, 16.56 ± 9.87 yr). The origins of the sepsis were paranasal sinusitis for 53 patients (64.6%), mastoiditis for 16 patients, trauma for 5 patients, dental caries for 1 patient, and miscellaneous causes for 7 patients. The most common clinical presenting features were fever, neck stiffness, and periorbital edema. Surgery was performed in the form of burrholes for 21 patients, small craniectomies for 39 patients, and craniotomies for 5 patients. The additional five patients, while having drainage of their infected paranasal sinuses, had simultaneous drainage of their extradural pus collections by the ear, nose, and throat surgeon. The majority of patients (81 patients) experienced good outcomes (Glasgow Outcome Scale scores of 4 or 5). A single patient died after surgery (mortality rate, 1.22%).


EDEs occur less frequently than subdural empyemas and are associated with better prognoses. Surgical drainage (burrholes), simultaneous eradication of the source of sepsis, and high-dose intravenous antibiotic therapy remain the mainstays of treatment. Selective nonsurgical management of small EDEs is possible, provided the source of sepsis is surgically eradicated. It is our opinion that EDE is a disease that should be managed without morbidity or death.

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