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Traumatic Brain Injury ebook

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Traumatic Brain Injury provides practical, neurologicalguidance to the diagnosis and management of patients who sufferfrom Traumatic Brain Injury. Taking a "patient journey" in Traumatic Brain Injury,from prehospital management to the emergency department, intorehabilitation and finally reemergence in the community, itdemonstrates how neurologists can facilitate recovery at all pointsalong the way. It provides guidelines and algorithms to helpsupport patients with brain injury within trauma centers, inposttraumatic care following discharge, and with mild traumaticbrain injury not requiring immediate hospitalization. From an international team of expert editors and contributors,Traumatic Brain Injury is a valuable resource forneurologists, trainee neurologists, and others working withpatients with Traumatic Brain Injury.

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Traumatic Brain Injury


Pieter E. Vos, MD, PhD

Department of NeurologySlingeland HospitalDoetinchem, the Netherlands

Ramon Diaz-Arrastia, MD, PhD

Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative MedicineUniformed Services University of the Health SciencesBethesda, MD, USA

This edition first published 2015 © 2015 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Traumatic brain injury (Vos) Traumatic brain injury / edited by Pieter E. Vos, Ramon Diaz-Arrastia.  p. ; cm. Includes bibliographical references and index.

 ISBN 978-1-4443-3770-9 (cloth) I. Vos, Pieter E., editor. II. Diaz-Arrastia, Ramon, editor. III. Title. [DNLM: 1. Brain Injuries–diagnosis. 2. Brain Injuries–therapy. WL 354] RC387.5 617.4′81044–dc23


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Cover image: Drs. Carlos Marquez de la Plata and Ramon Diaz-ArrastiaCover design by Rob Sawkins

Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books.

List of contributors

Peter S. AmentaDepartment of Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Philippe AzouviAP-HP, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Raymond Poincaré Hospital, Garches, FranceEA HANDIREsP Université de Versailles, Saint Quentin, FranceER 6, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France

Rachel P. BergerDivision of Child Advocacy, Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Peter R.G. BrinkTrauma Center, Maastricht University Medical Center, Maastricht, the Netherlands

Ramon Diaz-ArrastiaCenter for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, USA

Jesse R. FannDepartments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USADepartments of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USADepartments of Epidemiology, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Jack JalloDepartment of Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, PA, USA

Kimbra KenneyCenter for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, USA

C. Christopher KingDepartment of Emergency Medicine, Albany Medical Center, Albany, NY, USA

Carlos Marquez de la PlataDepartment of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, TX, USA

Dafin F. MuresanuDepartment of Neurology, University CFR Hospital, University of Medicine and Pharmacy “Iuliu Hatieganu,” Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Kathleen F. PagulayanVA Puget Sound Health Care System, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USADepartments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Lori ShutterDepartments of Neurology and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

Joke M. SpikmanDepartment of Neuropsychology, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands

Luzius A. SteinerDepartment of Anesthesiology, University Hospital of Basel, Switzerland

Claire Vallat-AzouviER 6, Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, FranceAntenne UEROS and SAMSAH 92, UGECAM Ile-de-France, France

Joukje van der NaaltDepartment of Neurology, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands

Pieter E. VosDepartment of Neurology, Slingeland Hospital, Doetinchem, the Netherlands

Noel S. ZuckerbraunDivision of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, PA, USA


The idea for this book started 10 years ago. As neurologists who had ventured beyond the traditional path in our specialty by developing an interest in traumatic head injury, we immediately developed a kinship when we met at the annual conference of Neurotrauma Society in California. Noting the progress made in emergency medicine, neurocritical care, and rehabilitation during the last decades of the 20th century, we realized that as a consequence of the increased survival of severely injured patients, traumatic brain injury (TBI) had been transformed from an acute to a much more chronic disease. We also noted that this realization had not yet permeated into the consciousness of the multiple medical specialties caring for patients with TBI. Each discipline was looking at its own part of the elephant, but not fully appreciating the whole picture. We further discussed the fact that the field was poised for further advances in emergency care, diagnostics, and therapeutics and that a multidisciplinary approach would be required for these advances to translate into improved outcomes for our patients.

Injury to the head has been ubiquitous in humans since prehistoric times and remains a common and frequently disabling feature of modern life in all societies. Partly because brain injury is so common, several concepts regarding the injury have remained hidden in plain view until recently. First, the most common causes of disability after brain injury are cognitive and neuropsychiatric. Professionals and lay persons often fail to establish a relationship between the injury and subsequent deficits and alterations in personality. Second, while most patients recover fully after a concussion, a minority does not, making mild TBI and concussion a significant public health burden, particularly individuals who sustain multiple injuries. Third, even patients who make seemingly full or very gratifying recoveries are at risk of developing delayed complications, such as epilepsy or dementia, many years later, placing substantial burdens on their families and society.

These and other reflections led to the foundation cornerstone for the book. Our aim was to explicitly discuss the many phases that the TBI patient undergoes from the time of the accident until reintegration in the society, highlighting aspects of the acute, subacute, and chronic stages. We invited physicians and investigators recognized in diverse disciplines who are involved in treating patients with head injury. We are proud and grateful that so many clinicians in spite of their busy schedule accepted our invitation and were able to both encompass discussion of the clinical aspects of the brain trauma medicine as well as the usefulness and limitations of ancillary investigations and treatment options, helping us move closer to our goal of integrating all of this expertise into a complete picture of TBI medicine.

We hope that this book attracts the attention of physicians and other professionals from all spheres of medicine with an interest in brain trauma. The book may be of interest in critical to those who have a critical role in caring for TBI victims with specialty training in neurology, neurosurgery, emergency medicine, anesthesiology, surgery, critical care medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychology, and psychiatry. The reader may read this book cover to cover. However, the book is organized in logical episodes from the accident scene, prehospital resuscitation, emergency department, in-hospital treatment with emphasis on intensive care, rehabilitation, and finally community reintegration. It is hoped that this approach will introduce physicians and other medical professionals involved at each level also in the challenges that face their colleagues at other stages, and facilitate the development of integrated systems of care that will optimize recovery from one of the most common human diseases.

Pieter E. VosRamon Diaz-Arrastia


We would like to thank the authors who contributed chapters and discussions for this book. We are indebted to many colleagues in Europe and the USA for the many insights they have provided during clinical and scientific collaborations, which we have strived to include. We also thank our families who have been unwaveringly supportive through the peaks and valleys of careers in academic neurology. We are finally grateful to our patients for their selflessness, for their participation in scientific studies, and for allowing us to be their doctors.

Part IIntroduction and imaging

Chapter 1The clinical problem of traumatic head injury

Ramon Diaz-Arrastia1 and Pieter E. Vos2

1 Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, USA

2 Department of Neurology, Slingeland Hospital, Doetinchem, the Netherlands


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is among the oldest and most common medical afflictions affecting humankind. A South African australopithecine skull estimated to be 3 million years old shows evidence of a lethal skull fracture administered by another early hominid [1], and injuries to the cranium are commonly found in skeletal remains of prehistoric humans. Between 10 and 50% of skulls of prehistoric humans show evidence of cranial trauma [2, 3]. Most of these injuries were a consequence of warfare, but it is also likely that many of these TBIs were accidental and occurred during hunting or otherwise interacting with a harsh environment. The advance of civilization has resulted in a dramatic decrease in interpersonal violence, as recently pointed out in an influential book by Steven Pinker of Harvard University [4], but TBI remains a common and frequently disabling feature of modern life in industrialized as well as industrializing societies.

This book is organized so that the information is maximally useful to practicing clinicians as they encounter patients with TBIs. This often starts at the site of injury, where the decision of regarding transport to an emergency department (ED) for higher-level evaluation and management is made. In cases of severe TBI, some interventions must be started in the field in order to minimize secondary injury. In the ED, the diagnostic and management algorithm is determined by the patient’s level of consciousness, the extent of cranial and extracranial injuries, and findings on neuroimaging studies, usually cranial computerized tomography (CT). A subset of patients require emergent surgical treatment, and care by a neurosurgeon is often lifesaving at this stage. Subsequent to the ED (or operating theater), patients are usually cared for in the intensive care unit, where careful monitoring and interventions are aimed at lowering intracranial pressure and maximizing cerebral perfusion pressure to minimize secondary brain injury. Neurocritical care medicine is a new and rapidly growing subspecialty of neurology and represents a fertile area of research in neurotrauma. Some patients with milder injuries are discharged from the ED with instructions to seek follow-up care in the community, while others with moderate injuries may be admitted to the general hospital ward for close observation. Upon discharge from the hospital, many patients, particularly those with moderate and severe injuries, require inpatient rehabilitation therapy, while others are sent home for outpatient rehabilitation services. The availability of rehabilitation services and specialists varies widely even in wealthy countries, and while it is generally accepted that rehabilitation treatments are valuable, research to identify optimal rehabilitative strategies is still in its infancy. Ultimately, most TBI patients attempt to reintegrate into their communities and resume their normal lives. While many can do so successfully, a substantial fraction experience disabilities that limit their ability to resume their preinjury lifestyle. During the chronic stage after injury, many patients experience long-term and sometimes delayed complications that require continued medical attention.

TBI patients encounter different physicians at each stage of the continuum of care, and while specialists from different disciplines (including emergency medicine, neurosurgery, neurology, neuroradiology, critical care medicine, rehabilitation medicine, psychiatry, and psychology) are involved at each stage, the best care is provided by medical systems that integrate and coordinate care at each stage along the continuum. Unfortunately, such integrated systems of care are rare, even in wealthy countries. This book is a small attempt to bridge that gap by introducing physicians involved at each level with the challenges that face their colleagues at other stages and to point out the needs to those involved in developing integrated systems of care for one of the most common human maladies.

Social burden of TBI

US estimates

TBI is a major cause of death and disability. In the USA alone, approximately 1.7 million sustain a TBI each year, of which 52 000 people die, and another 275 000 are hospitalized and survive [5]. High-risk age groups are those under 4, 15–19, and greater than 65. These figures do not include injury data from military, federal, and Veterans Administration hospitals. As has been the case since prehistory, military personnel are at particular risk of TBI, which reportedly occurs in approximately 15% of those involved in combat operations [6, 7]. TBI is also a common cause of long-term disability. It is estimated that in the USA, 80 000–90 000 people annually experience permanent disability associated with TBI. Currently, more that 3.2 million Americans (or 1% of the population) live with TBI-related disabilities [8]. This results in an enormous burden on patients, their families, and society. Similar data are available from other developed countries. The social burden in mid- and lower-income countries is likely even higher.

European estimates

In Europe, TBI figures are in general comparable to those in the USA. In a recent survey on the costs of brain disorders in Europe, the best available estimates of the prevalence and cost per person for 19 groups of disorders of the brain were identified via a systematic review of the published literature. An economic model was developed to estimate the mean annual costs of persons sustaining a TBI [9]. Most brain disorders have an insidious onset followed by worsening and often chronic symptoms, and for such conditions, the most reliable epidemiologic data constitute prevalence estimates derived from community-based samples. However, TBI differs from other disorders in that their onset is sudden and followed by an intensive period of care followed by rehabilitation and potentially cure. For TBI, incidence rates are mainly available and the cost of patients during a period following disease onset. In the European study, also estimates on the cost of patients suffering from the long-term consequences of TBI were included as an approximation of the costs for patients with a previous onset of disease. The identified cost of TBI studies presented the mean indirect cost of the whole population, including also the zero estimates of patients not working because of other causes than the disorder (e.g., being underage or retired). The economic model was designed to estimate the number and costs of persons in acute trauma care, in rehabilitation, or suffering from the long-term consequences of a previous TBI. We assumed a time horizon of 20 years divided into three phases: acute (first 6 months following the injury), rehabilitation (the following 18 months), and finally a long-term phase. The cost estimate of TBI based on separate estimates for each severity (mild, moderate, and severe TBI) for 2010 was 33.0 billion €PPP [9].

The problem of mild TBI

TBI is usually classified as mild, moderate, and severe, based on the initial Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) recorded in the ED. Severe TBI is defined by a score between 3 and 8, moderate TBI by GCS between 9 and 12, and mild TBI (mTBI) by GCS 13 and 15 [10]. Although it is recognized that this classification scheme has a lot of limitations [11], it has been universally utilized in clinical practice as well as in clinical research. Although severe TBI has been the primary focus of investigation over the past 30 years [12], mTBI is at least 10-fold more prevalent [13, 14]. While the likelihood of favorable recovery is higher in mTBI compared to moderate and severe TBI, many patients with mTBI are left with disabilities that impair their ability to fulfill their work, school, or family responsibilities. It is likely that the social burden resulting from mTBI is at least equivalent to that resulting from severe TBI, given its much higher prevalence [13]. Using incidence and cost data from 1985, Max et al. [15] concluded that 44% of the total lifetime costs associated with TBI were due to mTBI. Since this study did not consider the costs of lost productivity and reduced quality of life, as well as indirect costs borne by family and others, it is likely to be an underestimate of the true societal burden of mTBI.

Mild TBI has been relatively understudied for several reasons. First, most mTBI patients make a seemingly complete recovery, and early identification of mTBI patients who are most likely to suffer persistent symptoms and develop cognitive and neuropsychological deficits is difficult. Second, since mortality and functional dependence on others are relatively rare in mTBI, the outcome assessments that are traditionally used for severe TBI are insufficiently sensitive for the type of cognitive and behavioral disabilities that most commonly result from mTBI [12]. The cognitive and psychiatric consequences of TBI are often nonspecific and overlap with conditions such as developmental, behavioral, mood and thought disorders, and dementia. Further, many of the long-term consequences of TBI manifest years after the trauma and may not be ascribed to the brain injury from which there was an apparently initial complete recovery. For example, TBI early in the preschool years may alter the developmental potential of the young brain and result in problems that only manifest during adolescence and young adulthood, such as substance abuse disorders, mood disorders, and conduct disorders [16]. Similarly, there is an increased risk of late-life dementia in individuals who suffered a TBI in early to midlife, even after an apparent initial complete recovery [17].

TBI as a chronic, lifelong condition

TBI has traditionally been conceptualized as an event, from which there is either complete or incomplete recovery, and that once recovery has plateaued, whatever residual deficits remain have been assumed to be stable. Recently, it has been recognized that TBI is best conceptualized as a lifelong chronic health condition, which begins at the time of the injury but has chronic effects that persist for life and, in many cases, manifest only after a latency of several to many years [18, 19]. These chronic health effects merit careful monitoring and continued therapeutic interventions.

It has long been recognized that neurological disorders such as posttraumatic epilepsy are a consequence of TBI, which may manifest years after the injury [20, 21]. This is a direct evidence for the fact that traumatic insults trigger synaptic plasticity and circuit rewiring that persists for months and years and is likely lifelong. This plasticity is usually beneficial and allows for repair and recovery but, in some cases, results in a maladaptive neural circuit. Other neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy are also well-recognized long-term sequelae of neurotrauma [22]. Disorders of the hypothalamic–pituitary axis are noted in up to 30% of survivors of moderate and severe TBI [23] and can have protean long-term consequences, including sleep disorders [24]. As a consequence of these and perhaps other chronic health conditions, individuals who experience moderate-to-severe TBIs have a reduction in life expectancy of approximately 4–7 years [25, 26]. Patients who survive more than 1 year after moderate-to-severe TBI are 37 times more likely to die from seizures, 12 times more likely to die from septicemia, and 4 times more likely to die from pneumonia than a matched control group from the general population [27].

Paucity of specific therapies for TBI

The high social burden resulting from TBI has led to extensive preclinical studies and numerous clinical trials aimed at developing therapies to improve functional outcome [12]. In animal models, therapeutic interventions aimed at modulating molecular pathways identified to be induced after TBI have been successful in limiting the extent of injury and improving neurologic recovery [28–30]. These experimental observations constitute a convincing proof of the principle that opportunity exists for therapeutic interventions. However, phase III clinical trials of several of these therapies in patients with severe brain injuries have failed to demonstrate efficacy [31]. It is likely that one of the main reasons for this failure to translate therapies from the lab to the bedside is the heterogeneity of TBI [32]. Not all is bleak, however. A retrospective review of neurosurgical databases in the USA found that mortality from severe TBI declined from 39 to 27% from 1984 to 1996 [33]. Most of this remarkable improvement is due to advances in supportive care and the development of specialized neurocritical care units.

Pharmacologic interventions targeting repair, regeneration, and protection after TBI are particularly lacking. Drug development for TBI has traditionally focused on limiting secondary brain injury after the initial traumatic event, based on the belief that the capacity of the central nervous system for repair and regeneration was limited. New evidence now indicates that the adult brain has substantial regenerative capacity, and repair and regeneration processes can be activated or enhanced by pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic treatment. Brain repair mechanisms that are potential therapeutic targets include angiogenesis, axon guidance and remodeling, remyelination, neurogenesis, and synaptogenesis. Pharmacologic interventions supporting regeneration and repair may have a longer therapeutic window than pharmacologic interventions designed to limit injury, and they are also potentially effective in the acute, subacute, postacute, and chronic phases after TBI. Thus, repair and regeneration therapies have the potential advantage of being effective over a prolonged period of time following TBI.

Pharmacologic interventions designed to treat the persistent symptoms associated with the chronic stage of TBI (e.g., memory disturbances, depression, headache) are widely used off-label by clinicians. These usually include pharmacotherapies aimed at modulating the dopaminergic, noradrenergic, serotonergic, glutamatergic, and cholinergic systems. However, strong evidence for their efficacy and safety is lacking. As a result, the selection of drug for individual patients, or drug dose and duration, is empirical and highly variable among health systems. Clinical trials are needed to assess the efficacy and toxicity of these pharmacologic interventions.

Finally, it is likely that combination therapy will ultimately be required to promote maximal recovery and optimize outcome after TBI. Because TBI damages the brain by multiple mechanisms, combination therapy designed to simultaneously target multiple mechanisms of injury will likely be required. Pharmacotherapy that blocks downstream cellular and molecular mechanisms in the brain combined with pharmacotherapy that targets symptoms resulting from TBI may provide one reasonable strategy. Thus, drug combinations have the potential of having a larger therapeutic efficacy than that of individual drugs. Additionally, nonpharmacologic therapies such as exercise and physical and occupational therapies may also facilitate repair and regeneration. It is likely that the combination of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic therapies may ultimately prove most successful.

Classifying a multidimensional process

Multiple paradigms exist for classifying TBI, including classification by injury severity, mechanism, pathoanatomy, and pathophysiology. The most widely used classification is by injury severity and is based on factors such as the neurological exam (usually operationalized through the Glasgow Coma Scale) and the duration of loss of consciousness and posttraumatic amnesia [34]. However, it is well recognized that such measures provide only a one-dimensional view and are of limited utility for guiding therapy and prognostic counseling.

A pathoanatomic classification, guided by neuroimaging findings, provides additional valuable information. TBI can result from either focal or diffuse insults, though both patterns may exist in a given patient to varying degrees. Focal injuries result from force directly transmitted to the head upon contact and include skull fractures, extra-axial hemorrhage (epidural or subdural), contusions, lacerations, and focal vascular injuries that produce strokes. Diffuse injuries result from acceleration/deceleration of the head and are characterized by diffuse axonal injury, traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage, traumatic vascular injury, inflammation, and neuroendocrine dysfunction. Neuroimaging with cranial CT scanning is excellent at detecting focal injuries, but poor at detecting diffuse injuries. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is superior to CT, particularly for identifying diffuse injuries. A single patient, particularly one with injury in the severe end of the spectrum, may manifest both focal and diffuse injuries and multiple pathoanatomic types of each. Recent emphasis has been placed on multidimensional classification, encompassing severity as well as pathoanatomic characteristics that likely have pathophysiologic mechanisms in common. Such schemes, based heavily on patterns seen on neuroimaging studies, hold promise that such an understanding will lead to the development of targeted and more effective therapies [35].

It is also clear that demographic factors such as age, gender, and possibly genetic background play an important role in the response of neural tissue to traumatic injury and will have to be considered when selecting therapeutic strategies. An equivalent mechanical force is likely to result in a more severe and pathoanatomically complex injury in an infant or older person than in an adolescent or young adult, and the long-term consequences of such an injury will also likely differ.

Understanding the endophenotypes of TBI

The term endophenotype, initially coined in the field of psychiatric genetics [36, 37], refers to internal phenotypes discoverable by biochemical, physiological, radiological, pathological, or other techniques, which are intermediate between a complex phenotype and the presumptive genetic or environmental contribution to the complex disease. Discovering the genetic and environmental factors contributing to complex human diseases, as well as developing effective therapies for them, often requires understanding the endophenotypes of the disease. For example, the discovery of genetic factors contributing to coronary artery disease [38] and the eventual development of effective therapies based on HMG-CoA reductase inhibition was made possible by understanding the endophenotype of hypercholesterolemia, which is measurable through a simple blood test. It is likely that the development of effective therapies for TBI will require a thorough understanding of endophenotypes discoverable through methods such as MRI, biochemical assays of biomarkers in blood or cerebrospinal fluid, electroencephalography or other physiologic techniques, and neuropathology. Although this work is in its infancy, preliminary observations are starting to point out the broad outlines of the endophenotypes of TBI.

Such TBI endophenotypes may be represented by a vector-based scheme (see Figure 1.1, modified from Saatman et al. [35]). Each measured endophenotype can be represented by a single vector, with the magnitude of the vector representing deviation from normal. Vectors can be arranged radially about a central point representing normal, and the angle between each vector represents the correlation between each measure. For example, endophenotypes that are highly correlated with each other are represented by vectors at small (acute) angles, while those that are not correlated are represented by vectors orthogonal to each other. The surface area mapped out by the vectors represents injury severity, and the shape reflects heterogeneity. Additionally, multivariate statistical analysis can facilitate transformation of univariate statistical relations to multivariate representations, such as path diagrams that convey cause and effect. Improved characterization of data sets via multivariate statistical analysis could also guide the design of testing parameters, thereby enhancing applicability of results and increasing efficiency of bench-to-bedside translation.

Figure 1.1 Multiple vector-based analytical scheme. Tensor representations of the high-dimensional data associated with TBI may improve classification and guide therapeutic interventions, as has been demonstrated in other field such as oncology. Patient B is shown to have greater injury severity than Patient A, reflected by the greater area of the shape determined by the degree to which vector components deviate from normal (the central point) (Adapted from Saatman et al. [32]).


TBI is one of the most common medical afflictions affecting mankind, and since it often affects children and young adults and interrupts their education, social, and professional development, its impact on society is disproportionate. Despite much progress over the past decades, much remains to be done. Recent advances in neuroimaging and in understanding the biochemistry and physiology of neurotrauma hold much promise for improved diagnosis, better understanding of endophenotypes, and identification of the most therapies. Success will ultimately require collaborations between medical and nonmedical specialists from various disciplines and the development of integrated systems of care.


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Chapter 2Neuroimaging in traumatic brain injury

Pieter E. Vos1, Carlos Marquez de la Plata2, and Ramon Diaz-Arrastia3

1 Department of Neurology, Slingeland Hospital, Doetinchem, the Netherlands

2 Department of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas, Dallas, TX, USA

3 Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, MD, USA

Cranial computed tomography

Computed tomography (CT) scanning of the head is the principal diagnostic tool to demonstrate brain damage in TBI [1]. Since its introduction in the 1970s, it has revolutionized the management of TBI and has doubtlessly saved many lives. The primary use of cranial CT scanning is to detect life-threatening traumatic intracranial abnormalities that require immediate neurosurgical intervention or admission to an intensive care unit for careful monitoring of neurologic status. CT is sensitive and specific in detecting skull fractures, intracranial hemorrhages (subdural hematomas, epidural hematomas, traumatic subarachnoid or intraventricular hemorrhages, and parenchymal contusions) (see Table 2.1, Figure 2.1). CT is also able to detect local or diffuse brain edema, which can be identified as areas of hypodensity or indirectly by findings such as effacement of cortical sulci, disappearance of the normal gray–white matter demarcation, midline shift, or effacement of basal cisterns (see Figure 2.1). Approximately 10% of patients with severe TBI require a craniectomy based on the findings from an initial CT scan. According to the Brain Trauma Foundation guidelines, these findings include extra-axial hematomas larger than 30 mL in size or associated with greater than 5 mm of midline shift and parenchymal hematomas in a noneloquent cortex greater than 20 mL in size [1]. Patients in whom the original CT scan shows small- or moderate-sized parenchymal hematomas, traumatic subarachnoid hemorrhage, or extra-axial hemorrhages (subdural or epidural hematomas) are admitted to the hospital and usually rescanned within 24 h or sooner if there is a deterioration of neurologic status, as clinically significant expansion of intracranial hematomas is common [1].

Table 2.1 Systematic approach to describe CT findings after TBI.


Look for

Describe anatomical position









Bone (in bone setting)

Skull fracture


Depressed skull fracture


Basal skull fracture