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Background: Early tranexamic acid (TXA) treatment reduces head injury deaths after traumatic brain injury (TBI). We used brain scans that were acquired as part of the routine clinical practice during the CRASH-3 trial (before unblinding) to examine the mechanism of action of TXA in TBI. Specifically, we explored the potential effects of TXA on intracranial haemorrhage and infarction.

Methods: This is a prospective substudy nested within the CRASH-3 trial, a randomised placebo-controlled trial of TXA (loading dose 1 g over 10 min, then 1 g infusion over 8 hours) in patients with isolated head injury. CRASH-3 trial patients were recruited between July 2012 and January 2019. Participants in the current substudy were a subset of trial patients enrolled at 10 hospitals in the UK and 4 in Malaysia, who had at least one CT head scan performed as part of the routine clinical practice within 28 days of randomisation. The primary outcome was the volume of intraparenchymal haemorrhage (ie, contusion) measured on a CT scan done after randomisation. Secondary outcomes were progressive intracranial haemorrhage (post-randomisation CT shows >25% of volume seen on pre-randomisation CT), new intracranial haemorrhage (any haemorrhage seen on post-randomisation CT but not on pre-randomisation CT), cerebral infarction (any infarction seen on any type of brain scan done post-randomisation, excluding infarction seen pre-randomisation) and intracranial haemorrhage volume (intraparenchymal intraventricular subdural epidural) in those who underwent neurosurgical haemorrhage evacuation. We planned to conduct sensitivity analyses excluding patients who were severely injured at baseline. Dichotomous outcomes were analysed using relative risks (RR) or hazard ratios (HR), and continuous outcomes using a linear mixed model.

Results: 1767 patients were included in this substudy. One-third of the patients had a baseline GCS (Glasgow Coma Score) of 3 (n=579) and 24% had unilateral or bilateral unreactive pupils. 46% of patients were scanned pre-randomisation and post-randomisation (n=812/1767), 19% were scanned only pre-randomisation (n=341/1767) and 35% were scanned only post-randomisation (n=614/1767). In all patients, there was no evidence that TXA prevents intraparenchymal haemorrhage expansion (estimate=1.09, 95% CI 0.81 to 1.45) or intracranial haemorrhage expansion in patients who underwent neurosurgical haemorrhage evacuation (n=363) (estimate=0.79, 95% CI 0.57 to 1.11). In patients scanned pre-randomisation and post-randomisation (n=812), there was no evidence that TXA reduces progressive haemorrhage (adjusted RR=0.91, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.13) and new haemorrhage (adjusted RR=0.85, 95% CI 0.72 to 1.01). When patients with unreactive pupils at baseline were excluded, there was evidence that TXA prevents new haemorrhage (adjusted RR=0.80, 95% CI 0.66 to 0.98). In patients scanned post-randomisation (n=1431), there was no evidence of an increase in infarction with TXA (adjusted HR=1.28, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.76). A larger proportion of patients without (vs with) a post-randomisation scan died from head injury (38% vs 19%: RR=1.97, 95% CI 1.66 to 2.34, p<0.0001).

Conclusion: TXA may prevent new haemorrhage in patients with reactive pupils at baseline. This is consistent with the results of the CRASH-3 trial which found that TXA reduced head injury death in patients with at least one reactive pupil at baseline. However, the large number of patients without post-randomisation scans and the possibility that the availability of scan data depends on whether a patient received TXA, challenges the validity of inferences made using routinely collected scan data. This study highlights the limitations of using routinely collected scan data to examine the effects of TBI treatments.

Trial registration number: ISRCTN15088122.

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