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Chronic subdural hematoma

 

Definition

A chronic subdural hematoma is an "old" collection of blood and blood breakdown products between the surface of the brain and its outermost covering (the dura). The chronic phase of a subdural hematoma begins several weeks after the first bleeding.

Alternative Names

Subdural hemorrhage - chronic; Subdural hematoma - chronic; Subdural hygroma

Causes

A subdural hematoma develops when the tiny veins that run between the dura and surface of the brain (bridging veins) tear and leak blood. This is usually the result of a head injury.

A collection of blood then forms over the surface of the brain. In a chronic subdural collection, blood leaks from the veins slowly over time, or a fast hemorrhage is left to clear up on its own.

A subdural hematoma is more common in the elderly because of normal brain shrinkage that occurs with aging. This shrinkage stretches and weakens the bridging veins. These veins are more likely to break in the elderly, even after a minor head injury. Rarely, a subdural hematoma can occur without known cause (i.e., not from an accident or injury).

Risks include:

  • Chronic heavy alcohol use
  • Chronic use of aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, or blood thinning (anticoagulant) medication
  • Diseases associated with blood clotting problems
  • Head injury
  • Old age
Symptoms
Signs and tests

The physical exam will include a full brain and nervous system (neurologic) work-up to test:

  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Mental functions
  • Sensation
  • Strength
  • Walking

Because the symptoms and signs are often subtle, if there is any suspicion of a hematoma, a head CT or head MRI will most likely be done to further evaluate the problem.

Support Groups

Expectations (prognosis)

Chronic subdural hematomas usually do not heal on their own over time. They often require surgery, especially when there are neurologic problems, seizures, or chronic headaches.

Some chronic subdural hematomas return after drainage, and a second surgery may be necessary.

Calling your health care provider

Because of the risk of permanent brain damage, call a health care provider promptly if you or someone else develops symptoms of chronic subdural hematoma.

Take the person to the emergency room or call 911 if the person:

Complications
Treatments

The goal is to control symptoms and minimize or prevent permanent damage to the brain.

  • Anticonvulsant medications, such as phenytoin, may be used to control or prevent seizures.
  • Corticosteroid medications may be used to reduce any swelling of the brain.

Surgery may be required. This may include drilling small holes in the skull to relieve pressure and allow blood and fluids to be drained. Large hematomas or solid blood clots may need to be removed through a larger opening in the skull (craniotomy).

Prevention

Avoid head injuries by using seat belts, bicycle and motorcycle helmets, and hard hats when appropriate.


Review Date: 9/25/2008
Reviewed By: Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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