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Highly Accessed Review

Clinical review: Therapy for refractory intracranial hypertension in ischaemic stroke

Eric Jüttler1*, Peter D Schellinger2, Alfred Aschoff3, Klaus Zweckberger3, Andreas Unterberg3 and Werner Hacke1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 400, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany

2 Department of Neurology, University of Erlangen, Schwabachanlage 6, D-91054 Erlangen, Germany

3 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Heidelberg, Im Neuenheimer Feld 400, D-69120 Heidelberg, Germany

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Critical Care 2007, 11:231  doi:10.1186/cc6087

Published: 25 October 2007

Abstract

The treatment of patients with large hemispheric ischaemic stroke accompanied by massive space-occupying oedema represents one of the major unsolved problems in neurocritical care medicine. Despite maximum intensive care, the prognosis of these patients is poor, with case fatality rates as high as 80%. Therefore, the term 'malignant brain infarction' was coined. Because conservative treatment strategies to limit brain tissue shift almost consistently fail, these massive infarctions often are regarded as an untreatable disease. The introduction of decompressive surgery (hemicraniectomy) has completely changed this point of view, suggesting that mortality rates may be reduced to approximately 20%. However, critics have always argued that the reduction in mortality may be outweighed by an accompanying increase in severe disability. Due to the lack of conclusive evidence of efficacy from randomised trials, controversy over the benefit of these treatment strategies remained, leading to large regional differences in the application of this procedure. Meanwhile, data from randomised trials confirm the results of former observational studies, demonstrating that hemicraniectomy not only significantly reduces mortality but also significantly improves clinical outcome without increasing the number of completely dependent patients. Hypothermia is another promising treatment option but still needs evidence of efficacy from randomised controlled trials before it may be recommended for clinical routine use. This review gives the reader an integrated view of the current status of treatment options in massive hemispheric brain infarction, based on the available data of clinical trials, including the most recent data from randomised trials published in 2007.