Understanding the pathophysiology of paediatric head trauma is essential for rational acute management. It has been proposed that the response to severe head injury in children differs from that in adults, with increased cerebral blood flow (cerebral hyperaemia) representing the most common cause of raised intracranial pressure, but this has recently been disputed. The relation between the pathophysiological response and time after injury has not been defined in children. This paper describes 151 serial measurements of cerebral blood flow, arteriojugular venous oxygen difference (AJVDO2), and cerebral metabolic rate for oxygen (CMRO2) that were performed in 21 children with severe head injury, mean age 8 (range 2-16) years, Glasgow coma score < or = 8. Absolute cerebral hyperaemia was uncommon, only 10 (7%) of the 151 cerebral blood flow values being at or above the upper limit of the range published in normal children. There was an inverse correlation between cerebral blood flow and intracranial pressure. (r = -0.24, p = 0.009). Contrary to the widespread assumption that cerebral metabolic rate in patients with head injury is always low, CMRO2 was initially within the normal range in 17/21 (81%) children. Both CMRO2 and AJVDO2 fell significantly between the first and third days after injury. There was a non-significant rise in cerebral blood flow over time. These data represent the first evidence that the temporal change in cerebral metabolic rate reported in experimental models of traumatic brain injury also occurs in patients with head injury. The changes in the pathophysiological response over time suggest that the management may need to be modified accordingly. If cerebral metabolic rate and cerebral oxygen extraction are maximal shortly after injury in children with severe head injury then the children are most likely to sustain secondary damage during this period.
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