Fifty-nine patients were treated in a prospective, randomized comparison of pentobarbital and mannitol for the control of intracranial hypertension resulting from head injury. Patients with elevated intracranial pressure (ICP) after evacuation of intracranial hematomas were randomized to one of two treatment groups; mannitol initially or pentobarbital initially, followed by the second drug as required by further elevation of ICP. Similarly, patients with raised ICP but without hematomas requiring evacuation were randomly assigned to two treatment groups in an identical paradigm.
Those with ICP elevation and no hematoma treated with pentobarbital as initial therapy had a 77% mortality compared to a 41% mortality for those with mannitol as initial treatment. Patients with evacuated hematomas had mortalities of 40% and 43% (no significant difference) for pentobarbital and mannitol respectively. In both no-hematoma and hematoma streams pentobarbital was less effective than mannitol for control of raised ICP.
Multivariate statistical analysis indicates that pentobarbital coma is not better than mannitol for the treatment of intracranial hypertension and may be harmful in no-hematoma patients with intracranial hypertension after head injury.