Category Archives: Practice guidelines

Best Practices For TBI Patients On Oral Anticoagulants: Part 1

Over the past five years, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of patients presenting to hospitals with traumatic brain injury. The bulk of these injuries occur in the elderly, and a rapidly growing number of them are taking anticoagulants for management of their medical comorbidities. Although there is a growing body of literature addressing this issue, many practical questions remained unanswered. This is due to the lack of randomized controlled studies of the clinical problems involved. And given the ethical issues of obtaining consent for them, there likely never will be.

An interdisciplinary group of Austrian experts was convened last year to consider the most common questions asked about TBI and concomitant anticoagulant use. They reviewed the existing literature from 2007 to 2018 and combined it with their own expertise to construct some initial answers to those questions.

Over the course of my next few posts, I’ll dig into each of the questions and review their suggested answers. And remember, all these Q&A apply to patients with known/suspected TBI with known/suspected oral anticoagulant use.

Let’s start with some diagnosis questions.

Q1. Should head CT be performed in all patients with known or suspected TBI and suspected or known use of anticoagulants?

Answer: All patients with TBI and potential or known use of anticoagulants should undergo an initial screening CT scan of the head.

A number of systems that predict the utility of head CT already exist (e.g. Canadian head CT rules). However, they do not and cannot take into account the various permutations of drugs and other medical conditions that may influence coagulation status. Vitamin K antagonists (VKA) like warfarin have been clearly shown to increase mortality after TBI. Data involving the use of anti-platelet agents or direct oral anticoagulants (DOAC) are a bit less clear.

Q2. Should a repeat head CT scan be repeated in these patients, and if so, when?

Answer: Patients with intracranial hemorrhage on their initial scan should have a repeat within 6-24 hours, based on the location of the bleed.

The natural course of patients who have an identified intracranial hemorrhage is extremely unpredictable. For that reason, a repeat scan is suggested. However, there are no consistent data that would indicate when this should occur. Indications and potential for progression vary by type of bleed (subarachnoid, subdural, epidural, intraparenchymal). Thus, you must work with your neurosurgeons to arrive at a reasonable repeat interval, and it may be different for a high-risk location (epidural) vs one with low risk (subarachnoid).

Q3. Should a patient with an initial head CT that is negative be admitted for neurologic monitoring?

Answer: Patients taking only aspirin with GCS 15 and initially negative head CT may be discharged. All other patients should be admitted for at least 24 hours for neurologic monitoring as follows (q1 hr x 4 hrs, q2 hr x 8 hrs, q4 hr x 12 hrs). Repeat head CT is indicated if there is any deterioration in neurologic exam.

Multiple papers have described the occurrence of delayed intracranial hemorrhage in patients taking oral anticoagulants other than aspirin. Although some bleeds may develop days or weeks after the initial injury, the majority occur during the first 24 hours. Routine repeat head CT in this group of patients with an initially negative scan has not been found to be helpful.

Q4. What about patients with an initially negative head CT who cannot be examined neurologically (intubation, sedation, dementia)?

Answer: Unexaminable patients should undergo a repeat head CT within 6-24 hours based on the underlying risk factors for development of delayed hemorrhage.

There is no real literature on this topic, but this statement makes sense. Each center should pick a reasonable time interval and include it in their own practice guideline.

In my next post, I’ll review the panel’s recommendations on coagulation tests and target levels for reversal of the various classes of anticoagulants.

Reference: Diagnostic and therapeutic approach in adult patients with traumatic brain injury receiving oral anticoagulant therapy: an Austrian interdisciplinary consensus statement. Crit Care 23:62, 2019.

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EAST Practice Management Guidelines: Elderly Falls Prevention

The Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma (EAST) has published their most recent set of practice management guidelines. This one addresses prevention of falls in the elderly.

All trauma centers and trauma professionals are seeing more and more elderly patients, and the increase in the number of falls among these individuals is alarming. Most trauma centers are already engaging in some kind of prevention activity. However, their falls prevention efforts are all over the map, and there has been little guidance regarding what works and what does not.

So what can be done? The EAST practice management guideline group performed a methodical sweep of the literature to try to give us some objective information to shape prevention efforts. They addressed six specific questions. I have listed them below, with comments on what the literature shows us about the answers.

Question 1: Should bone mineral-enhancing agents be used? Conditional recommendation. A meta-analysis suggests that giving Vitamin D and calcium supplements tends to decrease fall-related injuries. The optimal dosing was not clear, but cholecalciferol doses of 400-800 IU daily and calcium dosing of 1000 to 1500 mg/day were most commonly used. There was a trend toward improved muscle strength and balance.

Question 2: Should hip protectors be used? Conditional recommendation. 
The evidence does show that wearing protectors decreases fall-related injury. However, compliance is usually an issue because they don’t look very cool. See below:

Question 3: Should exercise programs be used? Conditional recommendation. The literature on exercise routines shows a tremendous amount of variability in terms of the specific routines used. However, most studies do demonstrate a reduction in injury with implementation of an exercise program.

Question 4: Should physical environment modifications be made? Conditional recommendation. Conditions in the household are one of the biggest factors for causing falls. Clutter, throw rugs, poorly placed furniture all increase the risk of injury. The literature is extremely variable in the methods or equipment used, so the results are quite variable as well. Overall, home modifications such as grab bar placement, clutter removal, etc. appear to be of benefit.

Question 5: Should risk factor screening be used? Conditionally recommended. Screening for risk factors is not a specific intervention. However, it can and should be used to identify at-risk patients and direct interventions toward specific risk factors (see next question).

Question 6: Should multiple, tailored interventions be used? Strongly recommended. Research shows that if risk factor screening is applied to individuals or larger populations, and interventions directed at the specific factors identified are implemented, very favorable results are possible.

Bottom line: The best results I have personally seen at other trauma centers have been accomplished through risk factor screening and the use of multiple targeted interventions. Many centers address a single factor, or give talks to groups of older, non-injured patients. Although these activities may make us feel good, they probably don’t have the full effect that multifactorial interventions do, as addressed in Question 6. 

Elderly falls are a huge problem (and growing). Every trauma center should work on implementing a comprehensive and multi-factorial falls reduction program. And don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Many centers are already doing this, so don’t be shy about borrowing their program components!


Prevention of fall-related injuries in the elderly: An Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma practice management guideline. J Trauma 81(1):192-206, 2016.

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