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J Neurosurg. 1979 Sep;51(3):307-16.

Dexamethasone and severe head injury. A prospective double-blind study.


A prospective double-blind study of the effects of dexamethasone administration on the outcome of patients with severe head injuries was performed. Patients were stratified for severity of neurological injury and were treated with placebo, low-dose dexamethasone (16 mg/day), or high-dose dexamethasone (96 mg/day) for a period of 6 days. Outcome was evaluated at 6 months following injury. Of the 76 patients available for analysis, a good outcome was achieved in 37% of placebo-treated patients, 44% of low-dose-treated patients, and 29% of high-dose-treated patients. These differences are not statistically significant. Similarly dexamethasone administration had no statistically significant effect on intracranial pressure patterns or serial neurological examinations during hospitalization. Gastrointestinal bleeding occurred in only one patient. Good outcome was associated with age under 10 years, lighter depth of coma on admission, and the preservation of brain-stem reflexes upon admission. A recalculation of data in previous clinical series purporting to show an improvement in outcome as a result of corticosteroid therapy shows no significant difference in outcome when steroid- and placebo-treated patients are compared. In our series, 90% of all deaths were caused by recurrent intracranial hematomas, medical complications, or diffuse brain injuries with parenchymal hemorrhage and tissue disruption -- causes of death which cannot be affected by corticosteroid therapy. The study suggests that dexamethasone in either high or low dosages has no significant effect on morbidity and mortality following severe head injury.

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