Early hypotension after severe traumatic brain injury (sTBI) is associated with increased mortality and poor long-term outcomes. Current guidelines suggest the use of intravenous vasopressors, commonly norepinephrine and phenylephrine, to support blood pressure after TBI. However, guidelines do not specify vasopressor type, resulting in variation in clinical practice. We describe early vasopressor utilization patterns in critically ill patients with TBI and examine the association between utilization of norepinephrine, compared to phenylephrine, with hospital mortality after sTBI.
We conducted a retrospective cohort study of US hospitals participating in the Premier Healthcare Database between 2009 and 2018. We examined adult patients (>17 years of age) with a primary diagnosis of sTBI who were treated in an intensive care unit (ICU) after injury. The primary exposure was vasopressor choice (phenylephrine versus norepinephrine) within the first 2 days of hospital admission. The primary outcome was in-hospital mortality. Secondary outcomes examined included hospital length of stay (LOS) and ICU LOS. We conducted a post hoc subgroup analysis in all patients with intracranial pressure (ICP) monitor placement. Regression analysis was used to assess differences in outcomes between patients exposed to phenylephrine versus norepinephrine, with propensity matching to address selection bias due to the nonrandom allocation of treatment groups.
From 2009 to 2018, 24,718 (37.1%) of 66,610 sTBI patients received vasopressors within the first 2 days of hospitalization. Among these patients, 60.6% (n = 14,991) received only phenylephrine, 10.8% (n = 2668) received only norepinephrine, 3.5% (n = 877) received other vasopressors, and 25.0% (n = 6182) received multiple vasopressors. In that time period, the use of all vasopressors after sTBI increased. A moderate degree of variation in vasopressor choice was explained at the individual hospital level (23.1%). In propensity-matched analysis, the use of norepinephrine compared to phenylephrine was associated with an increased risk of in-hospital mortality (OR, 1.65; CI, 1.46–1.86; P < .0001).
Early vasopressor utilization among critically ill patients with sTBI is common, increasing over the last decade, and varies across hospitals caring for TBI patients. Compared to phenylephrine, norepinephrine was associated with increased risk of in-hospital mortality in propensity-matched analysis. Given the wide variation in vasopressor utilization and possible differences in efficacy, our analysis suggests the need for randomized controlled trials to better inform vasopressor choice for patients with sTBI.