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J Neurosurg. 1985 Mar;62(3):383-8.

Failure of prophylactic barbiturate coma in the treatment of severe head injury.


In certain subgroups of severely head-injured patients, the mortality rate remains unacceptably high. The authors describe a randomized, controlled trial of prophylactic pentobarbital therapy in a group of these patients. Pentobarbital was started as soon as possible after the head injury, regardless of the intracranial pressure (ICP), and was continued for a prescribed period of time. The study included 53 consecutive head-injured patients over the age of 12 years, who had either an acute intradural hematoma (subdural and/or intracerebral, large enough to warrant surgical decompression), or no mass lesion but whose best motor response was abnormal flexion or extension. All patients in the study were randomly assigned to a control group (26 cases) or a pentobarbital-treated group (27 cases) once the diagnosis had been made and informed consent obtained. All patients were treated with the same protocol of aggressive resuscitation, prompt diagnosis and treatment of mass lesions, and intensive care, with close follow-up monitoring. The randomization was effective in producing a close match between the control and treated groups with respect to age, sex distribution, cause of injury, neurological status, intracranial lesions, prevalence of early systemic insults, midline shift, and initial ICP. Outcome was essentially the same in each group. There was no difference between groups in the incidence of elevated ICP, the duration of ICP elevation, or the response of ICP elevations to treatment. Arterial hypotension occurred in 14 patients (54%) in the treated group and only two patients (7%) in the untreated group. Based on these data the authors cannot recommend the prophylactic use of pentobarbital coma in the treatment of patients with severe head injury. They also believe that its use is accompanied by significant side effects which can potentially worsen the condition of a patient with severe head injury.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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