Reconsidering the role of decompressive craniectomy for neurological emergencies

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Abstract

Objective:

There is little doubt that decompressive craniectomy can reduce mortality. However, there is concern that any reduction in mortality comes at an increase in the number of survivors with severe neurological disability.

Method:

Over the past decade there have been several randomised controlled trials comparing surgical decompression with standard medical therapy in the context of ischaemic stroke and severe traumatic brain injury. The results of each trial are evaluated.

Results:

There is now unequivocal evidence that a decompressive craniectomy reduces mortality in the context of “malignant” middle infarction and following severe traumatic brain injury. However, it has only been possible to demonstrate an improvement in outcome by categorizing a mRS of 4 and upper severe disability as favourable outcome. This is contentious and an alternative interpretation is that surgical decompression reduces mortality but exposes a patient to a greater risk of survival with severe disability.

Conclusion:

It would appear unlikely that further randomised controlled trials will be possible given the significant reduction in mortality achieved by surgical decompression. It may be that observational cohort studies and outcome prediction models may provide data to determine those patients most likely to benefit from surgical decompression.

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