When an injury or disease of the nervous system (brain, spine or nerves) is a serious threat to your life or well-being, the Neurocritical Care team at Tulane Health System Neuroscience Center works quickly and precisely. Using advanced diagnostic and monitoring techniques and technology, our specialists can identify critical problems and take steps to prevent or minimize permanent neurological damage.
To provide an advanced level of care, our dedicated neurological intensive care unit (Neuro ICU) is staffed with a board-certified neurointensivist, a doctor specially trained and experienced in caring for people with life-threatening neurological conditions.
What Kind of Problems Require Neurocritical Care?
Any injury or condition of the nervous system (the brain, spine and nerves) that is life-threatening or could lead to disability or serious health problems may require neurocritical care. Examples include:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI). A hard bump, blow, or jolt to the head or a penetrating head wound that disrupts the normal function of the brain can cause TBI. TBI is an emergency and can lead to impaired thinking, movement, vision and hearing, as well as depression and personality changes. Effects from TBI can be temporary or can cause permanent disability. Our team works quickly to limit damage, and may use medications to reduce pressure on the brain, prevent seizures and, if needed, cause a temporary coma to help the brain heal. Emergency surgery may be needed to remove a blood clot, repair a skull fracture or open a window in the skull to release pressure on the brain.
- Spinal cord injury (SCI). A traumatic injury to the head, neck, chest or back can cause a spinal cord injury. Other causes can include electrical shock or extreme twisting of the body. SCI can lead to permanent paralysis and other serious health problems, and needs to be treated right away to help reduce permanent damage. Medicines called corticosteroids can reduce swelling that may damage the spinal cord. Emergency surgery may be needed to realign the spine, reduce pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, remove bone fragments or other objects, fuse broken spinal bones, or place spinal braces.
- Stroke. A stroke must be diagnosed and treated quickly (within three hours) to give you the best chance for recovery and to limit damage and resulting disability. Simply taking one aspirin per day can help prevent another stroke, and clot-busting drugs can dissolve a blood clot causing a stroke. Emergency surgery and other procedures may be needed to stop bleeding and save brain tissue.
- Ruptured aneurysm. An aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge of an artery wall. As it grows, it puts pressure on nearby structures and may eventually rupture. A ruptured aneurysm releases blood into the spaces around the brain, a life-threatening condition called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. Treatment focuses on stopping the bleeding and repairing the aneurysm as quickly as possible.
- A seizure is a medical emergency if it lasts five minutes or longer, or if you have several seizures and do not wake up between them. Some medications can help stop a seizure, and our team will monitor you and help keep you safe during and after a seizure.
- Brain tumors. Brain tumors, whether cancerous or noncancerous, need prompt, specialized treatment to give you the best chance for recovery and healing. Our specialists are leaders in treating brain tumors and caring for you after treatment.
- Encephalitis (infection of the brain). A virus or bacteria can cause encephalitis, and severe cases need immediate, specialized treatment. Medicines can help you reduce inflammation and fight the infection, and you may need artificial respiration if you are having problems breathing.
- Meningitis (infection of the thin membrane around the brain or spinal cord). A virus or bacteria can cause meningitis. Early treatment can help prevent serious problems and even death. You may be given antibiotics or antiviral drugs, fluids, and medicine to reduce brain swelling, shock or seizures.
Here are some resources to help you find out more about neurocritical care and when it is needed, and about some of the conditions that might require it.