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Life-threatening neurologic illness may be caused by a primary disorder affecting any region of the neuraxis or may occur as a consequence of a systemic disorder such as hepatic failure, multisystem organ failure, or cardiac arrest (Table 33-1). Neurologic critical care focuses on preservation of neurologic tissue and prevention of secondary brain injury caused by ischemia, hemorrhage, edema, herniation, and elevated intracranial pressure (ICP). Management of other organ systems proceeds concurrently and may need to be modified in order to maintain the overall focus on neurologic issues.



Brain edema

Swelling, or edema, of brain tissue occurs with many types of brain injury. The two principal types of edema are vasogenic and cytotoxic. Vasogenic edema refers to the influx of fluid and solutes into the brain through an incompetent blood-brain barrier (BBB). In the normal cerebral vasculature, endothelial tight junctions associated with astrocytes create an impermeable barrier (the BBB), through which access into the brain interstitium is dependent upon specific transport mechanisms. The BBB may be compromised in ischemia, trauma, infection, and metabolic derangements. Vasogenic edema results from abnormal permeability of the BBB, and typically develops rapidly following injury. Cytotoxic edema results from cellular swelling, membrane breakdown, and ultimately cell death. Clinically significant brain edema usually represents a combination of vasogenic and cytotoxic components. Edema can lead to increased ICP as well as tissue shifts and brain displacement or herniation from focal processes (Chap. 19). These tissue shifts can cause injury by mechanical distention and compression in addition to the ischemia of impaired perfusion consequent to the elevated ICP.

Ischemic cascade and cellular injury

When delivery of substrates, principally oxygen and glucose, is inadequate to sustain cellular function, a series of interrelated biochemical reactions known as the ischemic cascade is initiated (see Fig. 32-2). The ...

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