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J Neurotrauma. 2013 Jan 1;30(1):23-9. doi: 10.1089/neu.2012.2554. Epub 2012 Dec 6.

Barbiturates use and its effects in patients with severe traumatic brain injury in five European countries.

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Department of Public Health, Faculty of Health Care and Social Work, Trnava University, Trnava, Slovakia.


The guidelines for management of traumatic brain injury (TBI) recommend that high-dose barbiturate therapy may be considered to lower intracranial pressure (ICP) that is refractory to other therapeutic options. Lower doses of barbiturates may be used for sedation of patients with TBI, although there is no mention of this in the published guidelines. The goal of this study was to analyze the use of barbiturates in patients with severe TBI in the European centers where the International Neurotrauma Research Organization introduced guideline-based TBI management and to analyze the effects of barbiturates on ICP, use of vasopressors, and short- and long-term outcome of these patients. Data on 1172 patients with severe TBI were collected in 13 centers located in five European countries. Patients were categorized into three groups based on doses of barbiturates administered during treatment. Univariate and multivariate statistical methods were used to analyze the effects of barbiturates on the outcome of patients. Fewer than 20% of all patients with severe TBI were given barbiturates overall, and only 6% was given high doses. High-dose barbiturate treatment caused a decrease in ICP in 69% of patients but also caused hemodynamic instability leading to longer periods of mean arterial pressure <70 mm Hg despite increased use of high doses of vasopressors. The adjusted analysis showed no significant effect on outcome on any stage after injury.Thiopental and methohexital were equally effective. Low doses of thiopental and methohexital were used for sedation of patients without side effects. Phenobarbital was probably used for prophylaxis of post-traumatic seizures.

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