This review has been written at an unfortunate time. Novel questions are being asked of the old therapies and there is an abundance of new strategies both to lower ICP and protect the brain against cerebral ischaemia. In the United Kingdom, the problem is to ensure that appropriate patients continue to be referred to centres where clinical trials of high quality can be undertaken. One of the success stories of the past decade has been the decline in the number of road accidents as a result of seat belt legislation, improvements in car design and the drink/driving laws. Hence, fortunately there are fewer patients with head injuries to treat and it is even more important that patients are appropriately referred if studies to assess efficacy of the new strategies are not to be thwarted. The nihilistic concept that intensive investigation with ICP monitoring for patients with diffuse head injury or brain swelling following evacuation of a haematoma or a contusion has no proven beneficial effect on outcome, requires revision. A cocktail of therapies may be required that can be created only when patients are monitored in sufficient detail to reveal the mechanisms underlying their individual ICP problem. Ethical problems may arise over how aggressively therapy for intracranial hypertension should be pursued and for how long. There has always been the concern that cranial decompression or prolonged barbiturate coma may preserve patients but with unacceptably severe disability. Some patients may be salvaged from herniating with massive cerebral infarction with the use of osmotherapy but is the outcome acceptable? Similar considerations apply to some children with metabolic encephalopathies. Where such considerations have been scrutinised in patients with severe head injury, the whole spectrum of outcomes appears to be shifted so that the number of severe disabilities and persistent vegetative states are not increased. However, it is important to be sensitive to such issues based on experience of the particular cause of raised intracranial pressure in a given age group.
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