Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of death in childhood; however only very few studies focusing on the specific pathophysiology and treatment have been published to date. Head trauma is more likely in young children than in adults given the same deceleration of the body due to their large and heavy heads and weak cervical ligaments and muscles. Resulting brain injury is more severe due to their thin, pliable skulls and the yet unfused sutures. Accordingly, children below the age of 4 years have lower chances of a full recovery after severe TBI, although in general, neurologic recovery after severe brain injury in children is better than in adults. The time course of brain injury can be divided into two steps: primary and secondary injury. Primary brain injury exclusively results from the initial impact. In contrast, adverse physiologic conditions during recovery after head trauma may account for additional brain damage, which is then referred to as secondary brain injury. As primary brain injury can only be influenced by preventive measures, all therapeutic efforts during the post-injury period focus on the reduction of secondary injury to the traumatized brain. Several mechanisms have been identified to be involved in the development of post-traumatic secondary brain injury, which render the rationale for the key treatment strategies. Three evidence based measures are of critical importance to prevent or minimize secondary brain injury: (1) avoid hypoxemia, (2) avoid post-traumatic arterial hypotension, and (3) refer the traumatized child to an experienced trauma team at a center that provides the availability of special equipment, e.g. for surgical procedures and airway management, for this age group. For several other therapeutical means, e.g. hypothermia or specific surgical interventions, clinical evidence to date is insufficient to allow recommendation as rescue treatment for children at risk of severe neurological sequelae following TBI. This review discusses the clinical implication of pathophysiologic mechanisms of TBI in the developing brain according to the recent literature and current guidelines. It follows the clinical approach to a head injured child, that can be divided into three phases, i.e. initial assessment and stabilization, followed by first tier, and if necessary second tier therapeutic interventions to assure adequate oxygenation and perfusion of the brain.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pathology and Forensic Medicine
- Cell Biology