Aim Dysautonomia after brain injury is a diagnosis based on fever, tachypnea, hypertension, tachycardia, diaphoresis, and/or dystonia. It occurs in 8 to 33% of adults with brain injury and is associated with poor outcome. We hypothesized that children with brain injury with dysautonomia have worse outcomes and prolonged rehabilitation, and sought to determine the prevalence of dysautonomia in children and to characterize its clinical features.
Method We developed a database of children (n=249, 154 males, 95 females; mean [SD] age 11 years 10 months [5y 7mo]) with traumatic brain injury, cardiac arrest, stroke, infection of the central nervous system, or brain neoplasm admitted for rehabilitation to The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh between 2002 and 2009. Dysautonomia diagnosis, injury type, clinical signs, length of stay, and Functional Independence Measure for Children (WeeFIM) testing were extracted from medical records, and analysed for differences between groups with and without dysautonomia.
Results Dysautonomia occurred in 13% of children with brain injury (95% confidence interval 9.3–18.0%), occurring in 10% after traumatic brain injury and 31% after cardiac arrest. The combination of hypertension, diaphoresis, and dystonia best predicted a diagnosis of dysautonomia (area under the curve=0.92). Children with dysautonomia had longer stays, worse WeeFIM scores, and improved less on the score’s motor component (all p≤0.001).
Interpretation Dysautonomia is common in children with brain injury and is associated with prolonged rehabilitation. Prospective study and standardized diagnostic approaches are needed to maximize outcomes.