Prehospital guidelines stratify and manage patients with Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) less than nine and any sign of head injury as affected by severe traumatic brain injury (STBI). We hypothesized that this group of patients is so inhomogeneous that uniform treatment guidelines cannot be advocated.
Patients (2005–2012) with prehospital GCS below nine and abbreviated injury scale head and neck above two were identified from trauma registry. Patients with acute lethal injuries, isolated neck injuries, extubated within 24 h or transferred interhospitally were excluded. Patients were dichotomized based on the worst prehospital GCS (recorded before sedatives) into two groups: GCS 3–5 and GCS 6–8. These were statistically compared using univariate analysis.
The GCS 3–5 group (99 patients) when compared with the GCS 6–8 group (49 patients) had shorter prehospital times (63 vs. 79 min; p < 0.05), more frequent episodes of both hypoxia (30.3% vs. 7.7%; p < 0.05) and hypotension (26.7% vs. 6.4%; p < 0.05), more often required craniectomy (15.1% vs. 4.0%; p = 0.05) and higher mortality (33.3% vs. 2%; p < 0.05). In the GCS 3–5 group, prehospital endotracheal intubation was attempted more often (57.5% vs. 28.6%, p < 0.05) and was more often successful (39.3% vs. 10.2%; p = 0.05). Length of stay in ICU did not differ.
STBI patients are fundamentally different based on whether their initial GCS falls into 3–5 or 6–8 category. Recommendations from trials investigating trauma patients with GCS less than nine as one group should be translated with caution to clinical practice.