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Trigeminocardiac reflex during skull base surgery: mechanism and management

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Background. We study the occurrence and management of the trigeminocardiac reflex (TCR) during neurosurgical procedures for lesions of the skull base.

Method. Two hundred patients underwent neurosurgical procedures for various skull base lesions and were evaluated retrospectively for the occurrence of the TCR during surgery. This phenomenon was defined as the onset of bradycardia lower than 60 beats/minute and hypotension with a drop in mean arterial blood pressure of 20% or more due to intra-operative manipulation or traction on the trigeminal nerve.

Findings. Sixteen patients (8%) had a TCR intra-operatively (7 vestibular schwannomas, 5 sphenoid wing meningiomas, 3 petroclival meningiomas, 1 intracavernous epidermoid cyst).

In all 16 patients with a TCR the postoperative courses presented no complications that could be directly related to this intra-operative phenomenon.

Conclusions. Due to the intracranial course of the trigeminal nerve several surgical procedures at the anterior, middle and posterior skull base may elicit the trigeminocardiac reflex. Continuous monitoring of hemodynamic parameters allows the surgeon to interrupt surgical manoeuvres immediately upon the occurrence of the TCR. This technique is sufficient for the heart rate and the arterial blood pressure to return to normal levels without the necessity of additional anticholinergic medication.

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Koerbel, A., Gharabaghi, A., Samii, A. et al. Trigeminocardiac reflex during skull base surgery: mechanism and management. Acta Neurochir (Wien) 147, 727–733 (2005).

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