Dysautonomia after severe traumatic brain injury


Henk T. Hendricks, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, Radboud University Medical Centre, PO 9011, 6500 HB Nijmegen, the Netherlands (tel.: +0031 243614804; fax: +0031 243619839; e-mail: h.hendricks@reval.umcn.nl).


Background:  Dysautonomia after traumatic brain injury (TBI) is characterized by episodes of increased heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, blood pressure, muscle tone, decorticate or decerebrate posturing, and profuse sweating. This study addresses the incidence of dysautonomia after severe TBI, the clinical variables that are associated with dysautonomia, and the functional outcome of patients with dysautonomia.

Methods:  A historic cohort study in patients with severe TBI [Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) ≤ 8 on admission].

Results:  Seventy-six of 119 patients survived and were eligible for follow-up. The incidence of dysautonomia was 11.8%. Episodes of dysautonomia were prevalent during a mean period of 20.1 days (range 3–68) and were often initiated by discomfort. Patients with dysautonomia showed significant longer periods of coma (24.78 vs. 7.99 days) and mechanical ventilation (22.67 vs. 7.21 days). Dysautonomia was associated with diffuse axonal injury (DAI) [relative risk (RR) 20.83, CI 4.92–83.33] and the development of spasticity (RR 16.94, CI 3.96–71.42). Patients with dysautonomia experienced more secondary complications. They tended to have poorer outcome.

Conclusions:  Dysautonomia occurs in approximately 10% of patients surviving severe TBI and is associated with DAI and the development of spasticity at follow-up. The initiation of dysautonomia by discomfort supports the Excitatory: Inhibitory Ratio model as pathophysiological mechanism.