Head injury medical therapy

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

Unfortunately, once the brain has been damaged by trauma, there is no quick fix. However, there are some steps that can be taken to prevent secondary damage. If left untreated many patients with head injury will rapidly develop complications which may lead to death or permanent disability. Prompt medical treatment may prevent the worsening of symptoms and lead to a better outcome.

Medical Therapy

Medical treatment should begin at the scene of the trauma. Paramedics will generally immobilize the patient to insure no further damage to the spine or nervous system, insert an airway to insure uninterrupted breathing, and perform endotracheal intubation if indicated. One or more IVs will be inserted to maintain perfusion status. In some cases medications may be administered to sedate or paralyze the patient to prevent additional movement which may worsen the brain injury. The patient should be delivered promptly to a hospital with neurosurgical capabilities. The management of brain injury requires the involvement of subspecialists who are generally available only at larger hospitals. Primary treatment involves controlling elevated intracranial pressure. This can include sedation, paralytics, cerebrospinal fluid diversion. Second line alternatives include decompressive craniectomy (Jagannathan et al. found a net 65% favorable outcomes rate in pediatric patients), barbiturate coma, hypertonic saline and hypothermia. Although all of these methods have potential benefits, there has been no randomized study that has shown unequivocal benefit.

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