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  • Updated 12.28.2023
  • Released 10.01.1998
  • Expires For CME 12.28.2026

Chronic subdural hematoma



Chronic subdural hematoma is one of the most frequent neurosurgical conditions. It is frequently encountered in elderly people (usually after minor head trauma) and patients on long-term anticoagulation and long-term hemodialysis. Bilateral chronic subdural hematoma occurs more frequently in patients with anticoagulant or antiplatelet therapy. COVID-19-associated coagulopathies can manifest with various intracranial hemorrhagic complications, including spontaneous subdural hematoma. The most frequent presenting symptoms are headache, cognitive decline, and focal neurologic deficit. Cognitive decline includes confusional state, psychomotor slowing, gait abnormalities, and subacute dementia. Many patients present with parkinsonism. Chronic subdural hematomas often present with atypical and unusual manifestations and can be difficult to diagnose. A high index of suspicion is needed to make an early diagnosis. Patients require surgical hematoma evacuation. The common surgical procedures for chronic subdural hematoma include twist drill craniostomy, burr hole evacuation, or craniotomy. Endoscopic hematoma evacuation is a safe and effective alternative for clot removal in the elderly. Postsurgical hematoma evacuation pneumocephalus, particularly a large air collection, is associated with the recurrence rate of hematoma. Tranexamic acid, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, mannitol, a platelet-activating factor receptor antagonist, and atorvastatin are tried medical treatment options for chronic subdural hematoma. Corticosteroids may reduce the postoperative risk of hematoma recurrence. Corticosteroids may be beneficial in improving neurologic function. The role of antithrombotic agents in the prevention of hematoma recurrence is doubtful. Embolization of the middle meningeal artery has emerged as an effective treatment modality for a new or recurrent chronic subdural hematoma. The GET-UP Trial found early mobilization post-cSDH surgery improves functional outcomes without increasing surgical recurrence, favoring it over bed rest. In this article, the author discusses the pathophysiology, clinical presentation, impact on outcomes, and available treatments for chronic subdural hematoma.

Key points

• Almost all chronic subdural hematomas result from modest cranial trauma.

• The most frequent presenting symptoms are headache, cognitive decline, gait abnormalities, and hemiparesis.

• A high index of suspicion is important for diagnosis.

• The outcome is generally favorable with neurosurgical evacuation of the hematoma.

• However, the incidence of recurrent hematoma varies from 3.7% to 30% after surgery.

Historical note and terminology

In 1657 Wepfer described the presence of a "bloody cyst" in the subdural space of an elderly man postmortem who had developed aphasia and hemiplegia. Morgagni discussed a similar patient in 1747, and in 1857 Virchow described a case of pachymeningitis hemorrhagica interna, which he attributed to inflammation (145). The association between pachymeningitis hemorrhagica interna and chronic traumatic subdural hematomas, however, did not become generally recognized until the early 20th century. Trotter in 1914 and Putnam and Cushing in 1925 described the pathology and surgical treatment of chronic traumatic subdural hematomas (140; 112). Limited trephination for drainage of chronic subdural hematoma was commonly employed in the 18th century (43), and by the 1930s burr hole drainage was the operation of choice (31). Closed drainage through a small twist drill hole was reported to carry a lower risk of hematoma recurrence (133). The evolution of surgical techniques is summarized by Weigel and colleagues (149). Naffziger described subacute and chronic subdural fluid collections in which blood was absent or minimal (98). He termed these collections “subdural hygromas,” and attributed their formation to cerebrospinal fluid leaking through an arachnoid tear.

Traumatic subdural hematomas are divided into acute, subacute, and chronic types. Acute subdural hematomas are those that are clinically evident within 72 hours of accumulation, whereas chronic subdural hematomas are those hematomas present over 20 days. Subdural hematomas detected between 3 days and 3 weeks after trauma are considered "subacute," but these lesions usually behave clinically as either an acute or a chronic subdural hematoma.

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