The prevalence of hypotension and hypoxaemia in blunt traumatic brain injury in the prehospital setting of Johannesburg, South Africa: A retrospective chart review

W Stassen, T Welzel


Background. Each year, ~89 000 (180/100 000) new cases of head injury are reported in South Africa (SA), with the majority of patients being in the economically active population. Hypotension and hypoxaemia significantly increase the morbidity and mortality in patients who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Cerebral tissue is particularly vulnerable to these secondary insults in the period immediately following a TBI, emphasising the importance of prehospital care in TBI.

Objective. To establish the prevalence of prehospital hypotension and hypoxaemia in moderate to severe blunt TBI in greater Johannesburg, Gauteng, SA.

Methods. The records of adult patients who sustained a moderate to severe TBI between 1 January and 31 December 2011 were retrospectively reviewed for hypotension (systolic blood pressure <90 mmHg) and hypoxaemia (oxygen saturation <90%) during their prehospital phase of care. These results were subject to descriptive analysis.

Results. A total of 299 records were identified, 66 of which met the inclusion criteria. The prevalence of prehospital hypotension and hypoxaemia were 33.3% (n=22) and 37.9% (n=25), respectively, while 21.2% (n=14) of patients suffered double insults of hypotension and hypoxaemia. Hypotension and hypoxaemia were associated with haemorrhage (p=0.011) and chest injuries (p=0.001), respectively.

Conclusion. The prevalence of hypotension in this study was similar to that observed in international studies, but the prevalence of hypoxaemia was much higher. There is a need for local guidelines to be developed to inform the quality of TBI care in the context of the developing world. 

Authors' affiliations

W Stassen, Division of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

T Welzel, Division of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa

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Emergency medical services; Brain injury; Hypotension; Hypoxia; Brain

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2014;104(6):424-427. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.7494

Article History

Date submitted: 2013-09-11
Date published: 2014-05-12

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