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Head Injury, Cranial Surgery and IICP. NUR 2549. Unconsciousness. An abnormal state in which client is unaware of self or environment Can be for very short time to long term coma Care is designed to Determine the cause Maintain bodily functions Support vital functions

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Head Injury, Cranial Surgery and IICP

NUR 2549


  • An abnormal state in which client is unaware of self or environment

    • Can be for very short time to long term coma

    • Care is designed to

      • Determine the cause

      • Maintain bodily functions

      • Support vital functions

      • Protect client from injury


  • Arousal

    • State of being awake that depends on a group of neurons in the brainstem

    • Can maintain level of wakefulness even without functioning cortex

From Human


RAS is located in

brain stem


  • Content part of consciousness

    • Ability to reason, think and feel

    • Also to react to stimulus with purpose and awareness

    • Controlled by cerebral hemispheres (higher centers)

    • Intellect and emotional function are also controlled in the same area.

Major Reactions

  • Two reactions affecting cerebral metabolism occur:

    • Cerebral ischemia /anoxia – brain isn’t getting enough oxygen and compensatory mechanisms take place

    • Cerebral edema results because the brain compensates by dilating blood vessels trying to get more oxygen


  • Document accurately what the client’s behavior is. Example: if the client opens eyes on command but not spontaneously, chart it as such. Be descriptive.

Glascow Coma Scale

  • Used to document assessment in three areas

    • Eyes

    • Verbal response

    • Motor response

  • Normal is 15 and less than 8 indicates coma

From Rehabilitation


From Rehabilitation


Other Assessment

  • Assess bodily function including respiratory, circulatory and elimination

  • Pupil checks – are pupils equal and how they react to light

  • Extremity strength

  • Corneal reflex test

Intracranial Pressure

  • Monro-Kellie hypothesis (applies only to children with a rigid skull and not neonates)

    • Skull is an enclosed space with three variables

      • Brain tissue

      • Blood

      • Cerebrospinal fluid

Intracranial Pressure

  • The skull cannot expand to allow for extra space occupying tissue or fluid

  • If one of the three components increases the other two must decrease in order to compensate

Intracranial Pressure

  • Other factors that influence intracranial pressure

    • Arterial pressure

    • Venous pressure

    • Intraabdominal and intrathoracic pressure

    • Posture

    • Temperature

    • Blood gases (left off handout)

Normal Intracranial Pressure

  • Pressure exerted by total volume from:

    • Brain tissue

    • Blood

    • Cerebrospinal fluid

    • Normal manometer reading – 80-180

    • Normal transducer reading – 0-15mm Hg

Cerebral Blood Flow

  • Amount of blood going through 100g of brain tissue in 1 minute – cerebral blood flow is 50ml/min per 100g

  • Brain uses 20% of the body’s oxygen

  • Brain uses 25% of body’s glucose

Autoregulation of Cerebral Blood Flow

  • Blood vessels alter their diameter to ensure a constant cerebral blood flow

  • Lower limit for MAP is 50mm Hg.

  • Below this, cerebral flow decreases and there is risk of ischemia

  • Upper limit is MAP of 150mmHg. Above this the cerebral blood vessels are maximally constricted. Blood vessels cannot constrict more to control high pressure. Blood brain barrier is disrupted and cerebral edema and ICP results

  • MAP= DBP + 1/3 Pulse Pressure

Cerebral Perfusion Pressure (CPP)

  • Pressure needed to maintain blood flow to the brain


  • Normal CPP is 60-100

  • CPP>100 is hyperperfusion and IICP

  • CPP< 60 hypoperfusion

  • CPP<30 incompatible with life

  • Elastance – stiffness of the brain

    • High elasticity –high elastance ICP increases with small increases in volume

    • Low elasticity – brain compensates and ICP stays stable


  • Low compliance is same as high elastance

  • High compliance – ICP remains stable

  • Blood pressure

    • If MAP is low, blood vessels in brain dilate to bring in more blood

    • If MAP is high, blood vessels constrict to shunt away blood from brain

Metabolic Factors affecting cerebral blood flow

  • Oxygen tension – When oxygen tension (PaO2) falls below 50, cerebral arteries dilate to increase cerebral blood flow. If this fails to happen, the brain metabolism changes to anaerobic metabolism and lactic acid builds up

  • Carbon dioxide tension - If the blood becomes acidic, the blood vessels dilate to increase cerebral blood flow (increased CO2 and acidosis are potent vasodilators)

Metabolic Factors

  • Globally

    • extreme cardiovascular changes (asystole)

    • Pathophysiologic states (diabetic coma)

  • Focally

    • Trauma and tumors

Stages of Increased ICP

  • Stage 1 – High compliance and low elastance. Autoregulation is functioning

  • Stage 2 – Compliance is lower and elastance is increased. An increase in volume places client at risk for IICP

  • Stage 3 – High elastance and low compliance. Small changes in volume will cause large increase in ICP

Stages of Increased ICP

  • Stage 4 – ICP rises to terminal levels with little increase in volume. Brain herniates leading to


Increased Intracranial Pressure

  • From an increase in cranial volume that results from increase in one or more of the following:

    • Brain tissue

    • Blood

    • Cerebrospinal fluid

Cerebral edema – regardless of cause, increases tissue volume, can lead to IICP

Types –

Vasogenic-most common (tumors, abscesses, ingested toxins)

Cytotoxic-local disruption of cell membranes (lesions or trauma)

Interstitial-uncontrolled hydrocephalus, hyponatremia

Increased Intracranial Pressure

Complications of IICP

  • Inadequate cerebral perfusion

  • Cerebral herniation

    • Brain shift : Lateral, downward, or both

    • Irreversible

    • Edema and ischemia further increased

    • Compression of brainstem and cranial nerves may be fatal

    • Cerebellum and brainstem forced through foramen magnum

Clinical Manifestations

  • Change in level of consciousness is the most sensitive and important indicator of neuro status

  • May be pronounced or subtle

  • Early signs may be nonspecific: restlessness, irritability, generalized lethargy

Clinical Manifestations

  • Changes in vital signs-this is ominous sign

    • This is a late sign – Cushing’s triad

    • Increasing systolic blood pressure

    • Pulse slowing and is bounding

    • Irregular respiratory pattern

    • May also have a change in temperature

Clinical Manifestations

  • Ocular signs

    • Pupil changes are from pressure on third cranial nerve

    • Pupils become sluggish, unequal. This is because of brain shift. May also be pressure on other cranial nerves

Clinical Manifestations

  • Decrease in motor function

    • May have hemiparesis or hemiplegia

    • May see posturing – either decorticate or decerebrate

    • Decerebrate – more serious from damage in midbrain and brainstem

    • Decorticate – from interruption of voluntary motor tracts

Clinical Manifestations

  • Headache

    • From compression on the walls of cranial nerves, arteries and veins

    • Worse in the morning

    • Straining and movement makes worse

Clinical Manifestations

  • Vomiting

    • NOT preceded by nausea- “unexpected”

    • May be projectile

Diagnostic Tests

  • CT

  • MRI

  • Cerebral angiography

  • EEG

  • PET

  • No lumbar puncture if there is ICP because sudden release of pressure can cause brain to herniate

  • ABG’s – keep O2 at 100% (Lewis 1615) and PCO2 as related to ICP (25-35)

Drug Therapy

  • Mannitol – Rapid short acting diuretic that decreases ICP. Decreases total brain water content

  • Watch fluids and electrolytes closely (I and O and labs)

  • Don’t give in cases of renal failure or if serum osmolality increased

Drug Therapy

  • Loop diuretics – reduce blood volume and tissue volume

  • Corticosteroids – Decadron most common steroid used. Watch for side effects. Should be on antacids or H2 receptor blockers to prevent ulcers.

Drug Therapy

  • Barbiturates – causes decrease in metabolism and ICP. Causes reduction in cerebral edema and blood flow to brain.

    • Watch for hangover effects and drowsiness. Side effects make it harder to check LOC. Watch for constipation – do not want client straining.

      Skeletal muscle paralyzers may be used (Pavulon)

      Antiseizure drugs - Dilantin


  • Clients need higher amounts of glucose to survive.

  • Will need nutritional support quickly.

  • Watch sodium if on Mannitol – may need to give additional salt.

  • Also may need additional free water if dehydrated – watch I and O closely.

  • Give low CHO diet to help with CO2


  • Fluid balance is controversial

  • Do not want too dry

  • Keep normavolemic

  • Give saline either .45% or normal saline – not glucose to help prevent additional cerebral edema

Laboratory Work

  • ABGs regularly

  • Electrolytes daily

Nursing Interventions

  • Airway and respiratory – suction only as needed and for 10 seconds at a time, only 2 passes. Give 100% O2 prior to suctioning.

  • Avoid abdominal distention – may need NG tube to decompress stomach

  • Sedate with care – if not on a vent, use sedation that will not interfere with respiration or mask any neuro changes

Nursing Interventions

  • Keep HOB elevated 30 degrees if BP is normal

  • If BP is low will need to put HOB flat

  • Keep head in alignment to prevent cutting off venous flow from the head

  • Don’t elevate knees – this will increase intrathoracic pressure

  • Turn gently from side to side – if turning raises ICP, client will need to stay on back

Nursing Interventions

  • If client is posturing frequently during care, will need to sedate first and then do only one thing at a time. Minimize stimulation

  • These clients can become agitated and combative – avoid over stimulating them

  • Restraining them will make them MORE AGITATED and RAISE THEIR ICP!

Nursing Interventions

  • Use minimal stimulation – perhaps one family member that is particularly calming – not the entire neighborhood can stay with client

  • Use a calm voice when talking to the client

  • Calmly tell the client what you are going to do when providing care


  • Keep room darkened if needed

Nursing Interventions

  • Keep body temperature within normal limits

  • Give ordered PRN antipyretics (probably Tylenol)

  • May need to use cooling blanket

  • Do not use ice on client

Nursing Interventions

  • Hygiene – keep skin clean and dry. Watch for skin breakdown

  • May need to be on a special bed

  • Keep mouth clean and moist

  • May need eye drops to moisten eyes

  • Families need a lot of support even after client leaves ICU

  • Client may benefit from rehab to help him adapt and progress

Nursing Interventions

  • Prevent infection

  • Protect from injury

  • Avoid factors that increase ICP

  • Psychological support

Pediatric Considerations

  • Open fontanels allow expansion of skull

  • Neuro changes may be harder to detect because child cannot communicate as well

  • Cushing’s triad rarely seen in children

  • Compare child’s behavior with their developmental level

Pediatric Considerations

  • Assess for developmental differences and physical anomalies

  • Is child appropriate for age?

  • Look for physical injuries such as bites, bruises

  • Use special Glascow coma scale for child

Pediatric Considerations

  • Allow parent to stay with child as much as possible

  • Avoid unnecessary stimulation

  • Crying will increase ICP

Head Trauma

  • Usually signifies craniocerebral trauma

    • Includes alteration in consciousness

    • High potential for poor outcome

      • Death at injury

      • Death within 2 hours after injury

      • Death 3 weeks after injury

Head Trauma statistics

  • 3 million/year in the U.S.

  • Mortality rate is 19 per 100,000

  • MVAs and falls have decreased as causes

  • Firearm-related head injury deaths have increased

Head Trauma

  • Scalp lacerations – scalp has many blood vessels and will bleed profusely. Watch for infection

  • Skull fracture types

    • Linear

    • Depressed

    • Simple

    • Comminuted

    • Compound

Skull Fracture Locations

  • Frontal

  • Orbital fracture

  • Temporal fracture

  • Parietal fracture

  • Posterior fossa fracture

  • Basilar skull fracture

    • Occurs at base of the skull

    • Watch for rhinorrhea and otorrhea

    • Test fluid leaking from nose or ear for glucose and watch for halo

    • If the drainage is CSF then the fracture has crossed the dura

Head Trauma

  • Check head injury client for bruising around eyes called raccoon eyes

  • Also look at hairline at nape of neck behind ear for bruising called Battle’s sign

  • Major complications of basilar skull fracture are infection and hematoma

Battle’s sign

Minor Head Trauma

  • Concussion – client may not lose consciousness

  • Will be a brief change in LOC, client may not remember the event and will have headache

  • Post-concussion syndrome is 2 weeks to 2 months after injury

Post Concussion Syndrome

  • Persistent headache

  • Lethargy

  • Personality changes

  • Short attention span

  • Decreased short-term memory

  • When client is discharged after concussion nurse should instruct family on what to watch for and when to call Dr.

Major Head Trauma

  • Contusion – bruising of brain tissue

  • Has area of necrosis infarction and hemorrhage

  • Often from coup - contrecoup injury

  • Seizures are common after contusion

Major Head Trauma

  • Lacerations

    • Tearing of brain tissue

    • Occurs with depressed skull fracture and penetrating injuries

    • May have bleeding into the brain structures-intracerebral hemorrhage

    • Very difficult to remove blood

Major Head Trauma

  • Epidural hematoma

    • Comes from bleeding between dura and inner surface of the skull

    • Will be unconscious, then awake, and then deteriorate

    • Headache, nausea and vomiting

    • Needs surgical intervention to prevent brain herniation and death

Subdural Hematoma

  • Usually bleeding is from veins, so bleeding is GENERALLY slower than epidurals

  • CAN be from arteries and these require IMMEDIATE removal

  • Administration of anticoagulants is one of the causes of CHRONIC TYPES esp. in the elderly.

Diagnostic Studies

  • Skull xrays routine to r/o or identify fracture

  • CT/MRI are best to determine trauma rapidly

Emergency Management-Initial

  • Airway

  • Stabilize cervical spine

  • Oxygen administration

  • IV access (2 large bore catheters), LR or NS

  • Control external bleeding with pressure

  • Assess for rhinorrhea, otorrhea, scalp wounds

  • Remove clothing

Emergency Management-Ongoing

  • Maintain patient warmth

  • Monitor VS, LOC, O2 sats, cardiac rhythm, GCS, pupil size and reactivity

  • Anticipate intubation if absent gag reflex

  • Assume neck injury with head injury

  • Administer fluids cautiously to prevent IICP


  • Most head trauma requires rehab

  • Some rehab units do coma management

  • Client may have trouble swallowing and need speech therapy

  • Client may agitate easily and act out sexually

  • May be a flight risk and have to be in a locked ward until passes through the agitation phase

From Rehabilitation Nursing




Pediatric Client

  • Child is vulnerable to acceleration deceleration injuries because their neck is supple and moves around easily and the head is larger in proportion to their bodies

  • In a very young child the cranium may be able to expand enough to allow for some edema

Pediatric Client

  • Epidural hemorrhage is rare in children

  • Subdural hemorrhage – from shaken baby syndrome, falls

    • Can result in quadriplegia, hyperthermia, bulging fontanels

    • Retinal hemorrhages

    • Dizziness

    • Unsteady gait


  • At risk for head trauma from falls

  • Be alert if client has fallen and is taking anticoagulants

Cranial Surgery

  • Brain tumor (benign or malignant)

  • CNS infection

  • Hydrocephalus

  • Vascular abnormalities

    • Intracranial bleeding

    • Aneurysm repair

    • Arteriovenous malformation

  • Craniocerebral trauma

    • Skull fractures

  • Epilepsy

  • Intractable pain

Types of Cranial Surgery: Stereotactic

  • Stereotactic: neurosurgery

    • Often computer assisted to precisely target area

    • CT and MRI used to image targeted tissue

    • Burr hole or bone flap for entry

    • Can remove small tumors and abscesses, drain hematomas, perform ablative procedures, repair AV malformation

    • Reduces damage to surrounding tissue

Types of Cranial Surgery: Craniotomy

  • Location varies

    • Frontal

    • Parietal

    • Occipital

    • Temporal

    • Combination

  • Burr holes drilled, saw to remove bone flap

    • Bone flap wired or sutured after surgery

    • Drain may be placed to remove blood or fluid

Nursing Care: Pre-op

  • Compassion

    • Uncertainty and fear about prognosis/complications

  • Teaching

    • What can be expected

    • Hair will be shaved

    • Client will be in ICU after surgery

Nursing Care: Post-op

  • Prevent increased ICP!!!

    • Maximum swelling occurs within 24-48 hours

  • Frequent assessment of neuro status x 48 hrs.

  • Monitor fluids, electrolytes, osmolality closely

    • Detects changes in sodium regulation, onset of diabetes insipidus, severe hypovolemia

  • Positioning varies depending on procedure

  • Assess dressing, drainage, incision

  • Care to prevent wound infection

Nursing Care: ambulatory and home

  • Rehab potential depends on reason for surgery, post-op course of recovery, and client’s general health

  • Nursing considerations

    • Foster independence for as long as possible to highest degree possible

    • Positioning, skin and mouth care, ROM exercises, bowel and bladder care, adequate nutrition

  • Potential recovery cannot be determined until cerebral edema and IICP subside

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