Acta Neurochirurgica

, Volume 72, Issue 3–4, pp 157–166 | Cite as

The effect of high dose barbiturate decompression after severe head injury. A controlled clinical trial

  • H. K. Nordby
  • R. Nesbakken


Treatment resistant intracranial hypertension after severe head injury has a very high mortality with conventional therapy such as hyperventilation and mannitol infusions. In this report, we describe the use of large doses of thiopental as a means of treating such swelling.

From a consecutive series of 107 severe head injuries with a Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) of 6 or below, we selected all patients below 40 years age with a progressive increase in intracranial pressure (ICP) to 40 mm Hg.

The first 16 patients (mean age 20 years, mean GCS 4.3) were treated with deep barbiturate coma and hypothermia (32–35 degrees Celsius) until stable lowering of ICP was achieved. The next 15 patients received conventional intensive care and were in other respects very similar to the barbiturate group (mean age 26, mean GCS 5.2).

After 9–12 months the outcome was classified according to the Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS). Therapy with barbiturate coma resulted in 6 good/moderate outcomes, 3 severe and 7 dead/vegetative. Conventional treatment resulted in 2 good/moderate outcomes and 13 dead/vegetative.

This is a highly significant difference and cannot easily be explained by more severe injuries or complications in the conventional group. Superior control of ICP was achieved by large doses of thiopental and the final outcome was better.


Severe head injury barbiturate coma intracranial pressure Glasgow Outcome Scale 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. K. Nordby
    • 1
  • R. Nesbakken
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of NeurosurgeryUllevål University HospitalOsloNorway

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