Cerebral hemodynamic effects of pentobarbital coma in head-injured patients

Manuela Cormio, Shankar P. Gopinath, Alex Valadka, Claudia S. Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

75 Scopus citations


The purpose of this study was to examine the changes in cerebral hemodynamics of head-injured patients undergoing barbiturate treatment of refractory intracranial hypertension. Cerebral blood flow (CBF) and metabolism variables were measured in 67 severely head-injured patients at the following times: before the loading dose of pentobarbital; after the loading dose of pentobarbital (average pentobarbital level 28.1 ± 8.3 μg/mL); and 3 days later, when the peak pentobarbital level averaged 42.5 ± 17.2 μg/mL. Intracranial pressure (ICP) and mean arterial blood pressure (MAP) were decreased by the loading dose of pentobarbital by an average of 12 and 9 mm Hg, respectively. Cerebral perfusion pressure (CPP) was unchanged when the entire group was analyzed together. CBF, cerebral oxygen consumption (CMR(o)2), and arteriovenous oxygen difference (AVD(o)2) were significantly decreased after the loading dose of pentobarbital, by 20%, 31%, and 11%, respectively. The average cerebrovascular resistance (CVR) was increased by 20%. The change in CMRo2 with the loading dose of pentobarbital was closely related to the pretreatment value (n = 67, r2 = 0.65, p < .001). Thirty (45%) of the patients had a 'good ICP response,' with a reduction in ICP from 34 ± 9 to 15 ± 5 mm Hg after the initial loading dose of pentobarbital. Twenty-seven (40%) of the patients had a 'partial ICP response,' with ICP decreasing but still remaining above 20 mm Hg after the loading dose of pentobarbital. In the remaining 10 patients, ICP did not change or even increased after pentobarbital. In the 30 patients with a good ICP response, pretreatment CMRo2 and AVDo2 were greater before administration of pentobarbital, and CMRo2 and AVDo2 decreased more with the loading dose of pentobarbital, than in the patients with partial or no ICP response. The outcome was significantly better in the patients with a good or partial ICP response to pentobarbital, with 21% of these patients having a good recovery or moderate disability at 3 months after injury, compared with 100% persistent vegetative state or death in the nonresponders. In summary, barbiturate coma can be a useful treatment modality for acutely reducing ICP in selected patients. Patients with overwhelmingly severe injuries are not likely to benefit, partly because their CMRo2 is already markedly reduced by the injury and partly because their outcome is already predetermined by the injury. Patients with systemic hypotension are not likely to have a good response because hypotension limits the amount of barbiturates that can be given.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)927-936
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Barbiturate coma
  • Cerebral blood flow; cerebral oxygen consumption
  • Intracranial pressure
  • Pentobarbital

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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