19A. Traumatic brain injuries

Page created on June 3, 2021. Not updated since.

Definition and epidemiology

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) means external force applied to skull which cause alteration of function and/or morphology of brain. It usually causes loss of consciousness, amnesia, and altered mental state.

It has been called a “silent epidemic”, as it’s one of the most common causes of deaths in the young and active population. In younger adults, it usually occurs due to motor vehicle accidents. In elderly, it’s usually due to falls.


We can distinguish primary and secondary brain injury. The primary brain injury occurs at the time of the impact and causes immediate clinical effects. These are preventable but not treatable. The secondary brain injury occurs later, due to hypoperfusion, altered autoregulation, and/or oedema. These effects cause symptoms gradually and are both preventable and treatable.

We can also distinguish between closed and open TBI:

  • Closed TBI – dura is maintained – low risk for infection
  • Penetrating TBI – dura is penetrated – high risk for infection

We can also classify the TBI according to the pathomorphology:

  • Focal TBI
    • Concussion/commotion – mild, no visible structural damage
    • Contusion – small, focal intraparenchymal haemorrhage
    • Epidural haemorrhage
    • Subdural haemorrhage
  • Diffuse TBI
    • Diffuse axonal injury
    • Diffuse neuronal somatic injury

Clinical features

Patients may present with:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Signs of increased ICP (papilloedema, vomiting, LoC)
  • Focal neurological signs
  • Signs of skull fracture (racoon eyes, rhinorrhoea, otorrhoea)
  • Anisocoria

Typical for epidural haemorrhage is that the patient experiences a lucid interval, which is a period of consciousness which occurs after they first lose their consciousness. After the lucid interval, the consciousness is lost again.

Diagnosis and evaluation

In everyone (except those with no or mild symptoms), a CT should be performed.

In epidural haemorrhage, the CT shows a lens-shaped (biconvex) hyperdense lesion. In subdural haemorrhage, the CT shows a concave or linear hyperdense lesion.


The goals of management of TBI are to prevent secondary injury, by providing proper blood flow, perfusion pressure, and oxygen supply. This is achieved by supportive treatment, ensuring normoxaemia, normocapnia, normotension, normothermia, and euglycaemia.

In some cases we might use controller hypothermia to protect the brain. In case of GCS < 8, the patient should be intubated.

In certain cases, haematomas can be evacuated surgically. If the ICP is high, it might be necessary to drain it.


  • Epilepsy
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Hypopituitarism (can occur long time after the injury)
  • Cognitive issues
  • Neurodegenerative disease


Subdural haematoma has the worst prognosis of the different types.

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