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Highly Accessed Review

Pro/con debate: Should PaCO2 be tightly controlled in all patients with acute brain injuries?

Stephanie L Go1 and Jeffrey M Singh123*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

2 Interdepartmental Division of Critical Care Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada

3 Toronto Western Hospital,Critical Care Medicine, 399 Bathurst Street, 2McLaughlin - 411K, Toronto, ON M5T 2S8 Canada

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Critical Care 2012, 17:202  doi:10.1186/cc11389

Published: 29 January 2013

Abstract

You are the attending intensivist in a neurointensive care unit caring for a woman five days post-rupture of a cerebral aneurysm (World Federation of Neurological Surgeons Grade 4 and Fisher Grade 3). She is intubated for airway protection and mild hypoxemia related to an aspiration event at the time of aneurysm rupture, but is breathing spontaneously on the ventilator. Your patient is spontaneously hyperventilating with high tidal volumes despite minimal support and has developed significant hypocapnia. She has not yet developed the acute respiratory distress syndrome. You debate whether to tightly control her partial pressure of arterial carbon dioxide, weighing the known risks of acute hypocapnia in other forms of brain injury against the potential loss of clinical neuromonitoring associated with deep sedation and neuromuscular blockade in this patient who is at high risk of delayed ischemia from vasospasm. You are also aware of the potential implications of tidal volume control if this patient were to develop the acute respiratory distress syndrome and the effect of permissive hypercapnia on her intracranial pressure. In this paper we provide a detailed and balanced examination of the issues pertaining to this clinical scenario, including suggestions for clinical management of ventilation, sedation and neuromonitoring. Until more definitive clinical trial evidence is available to guide practice, clinicians are forced to carefully weigh the potential benefits of tight carbon dioxide control against the potential risks in each individual patient based on the clinical issues at hand.