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Decompressive Laparotomy to Treat Intractable Intracranial Hypertension after Traumatic Brain Injury

Joseph, D’Andrea K. MD; Dutton, Richard P. MD; Aarabi, Bizhan MD; Scalea, Thomas M. MD

The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care: October 2004 - Volume 57 - Issue 4 - p 687-695
doi: 10.1097/01.TA.0000140645.84897.F2
Original Articles

Introduction: Increases in intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) can cause increases in intracranial pressure (ICP). Recently, we noticed that abdominal fascial release could be useful in treating intracranial hypertension (ICH) after traumatic brain injury (TBI). We added this as an option in our treatment of TBI.

Methods: In our institution, ICH is treated with an algorithm using osmolar therapy, CSF drainage and barbiturates. Patients with refractory ICH have routine measurement of IAP. If elevated, consideration is given to decompressive laparotomy. We retrospectively reviewed all patients admitted from January 2000 through July 2003 who had abdominal decompression to treat refractory ICH.

Results: From 1/00 to 7/03, 17 patients underwent decompressive laparotomy for intractable ICH. Thirteen male and 4 females all sustained blunt injury. All had failed maximal therapy including 14 who had had decompressive craniectomy. Mean ICP was 30 ± 8.1 mm Hg (range 20–40 mm Hg) before decompression. No patients had evidence of abdominal compartment syndrome (ACS). Before decompression mean IAP was 27.5 (± 5.2) mmHg (range 21–35 mm Hg). After abdominal decompression ICP dropped precipitously by at least 10 mm Hg to a mean of 17.5 (± 3.2) mmHg (range 10–25 mm Hg). In 6 patients the decrease in ICP was transient. All died. The remaining 11 had sustained decreases in ICP. All survived, made neurologic recovery and were discharged to a rehabilitation facility.

Conclusion: Decompressive laparotomy can be a useful adjunct in the treatment of ICH failing maximal therapy following TBI. More work will need to be done to precise the exact indications for this therapy.

From the Program in Trauma, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland.

Submitted for publication September 23, 2003.

Accepted for publication May 3, 2004.

This study was presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Surgery of Trauma, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 11, 2004.

Address for reprints: Thomas M. Scalea, MD, University of Maryland Medical System, R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center, 22 South Greene Street, Baltimore, MD 21201; email:

© 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.