, Volume 150, Issue 12, pp 1241-1248
Date: 13 Nov 2008

Surgical complications secondary to decompressive craniectomy in patients with a head injury: a series of 108 consecutive cases

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Decompressive craniectomy is an important method for managing refractory intracranial hypertension in patients with head injury. We reviewed a large series of patients who underwent this surgical procedure to establish the incidence and type of postoperative complications.


From 1998 to 2005, decompressive craniectomy was performed in 108 patients who suffered from a closed head injury. The incidence rates of complications secondary to decompressive craniectomy and risk factors for developing these complications were analysed. In addition, the relationship between outcome and clinical factors was analysed.


Twenty-five of the 108 patients died within the first month after surgical decompression. A lower GCS at admission seemed to be associated with a poorer outcome. Complications related to surgical decompression occurred in 54 of the 108 (50%) patients; of these, 28 (25.9%) patients developed more than one type of complication. Herniation through the cranial defect was the most frequent complication within 1 week and 1 month, and subdural effusion was another frequent complication during this period. After 1 month, the “syndrome of the trephined” and hydrocephalus were the most frequent complications. Older patients and/or those with more severe head trauma had a higher occurrence rate of complications.


The potential benefits of decompressive craniectomy can be adversely affected by the occurrence of complications. Each complication secondary to surgical decompression had its own typical time window for occurrence. In addition, the severity of head injury was related to the development of a complication.