Decompressive craniectomy and cranioplasty: experience and outcomes in deployed UK military personnel

S A G Roberts, E Toman, A Belli, M J Midwinter

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11 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECT: In recent conflicts, many UK personnel sustained head injuries requiring damage-control surgery and aeromedical transfer to the UK. This study aims to examine indications, complications and outcomes of UK military casualties undergoing craniectomy and cranioplasty from conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

METHODS: The UK military Joint Theatre Trauma Registry (JTTR) was searched for all UK survivors in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2004 and 2014 requiring craniectomy and cranioplasty resulting from trauma.

RESULTS: Fourteen decompressive craniectomies and cranioplasties were performed with blast and gunshot wounds equally responsible for head injury. Ten survivors (71%) had an Injury Severity Score (ISS) of 75, normally designated as 'unsurvivable'. Most were operated on the day of injury. Seventy-one percent received a reverse question mark incision and 7% received a bicoronal incision. Seventy-nine percent had bone flaps discarded. Overall infection rate was 43%. Acinetobacter spp was the causative organism in 50% of cases. Median Glasgow Outcome Scale (GOS) at final follow-up was 4. All casualties had a GOS score greater than 3.

CONCLUSIONS: Timely neurosurgical intervention is imperative for military personnel given high survival rates in those sustaining what are designated 'un-survivable' injuries. Early decompression facilitates safe aeromedical evacuation of casualties. Excellent outcomes validate the UK military trauma system and the stepwise performance gains throughout recent conflicts however trauma registers most evolving to have specific relevance to military casualties. In high-energy trauma with contamination and soft-tissue destruction, surgery should be conducted with regard for future soft tissue reconstruction. Bone flaps should be discarded and cranioplasty performed according to local preference. Facilities receiving military casualties should have specialist microbiological input mindful of the difficulties treating unusual microbes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-35
Number of pages7
JournalBritish Journal of Neurosurgery
Issue number5
Early online date20 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2016


  • Journal Article


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