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Benjamin T. Himes, Grant W. Mallory, Arnoley S. Abcejo, Jeffrey Pasternak, John L. D. Atkinson, Fredric B. Meyer, W. Richard Marsh, Michael J. Link, Michelle J. Clarke, William Perkins and Jamie J. Van Gompel

OBJECTIVE

Historically, performing neurosurgery with the patient in the sitting position offered advantages such as improved visualization and gravity-assisted retraction. However, this position fell out of favor at many centers due to the perceived risk of venous air embolism (VAE) and other position-related complications. Some neurosurgical centers continue to perform sitting-position cases in select patients, often using modern monitoring techniques that may improve procedural safety. Therefore, this paper reports the risks associated with neurosurgical procedures performed in the sitting position in a modern series.

METHODS

The authors reviewed the anesthesia records for instances of clinically significant VAE and other complications for all neurosurgical procedures performed in the sitting position between January 1, 2000, and October 8, 2013. In addition, a prospectively maintained morbidity and mortality log of these procedures was reviewed for instances of subdural or intracerebral hemorrhage, tension pneumocephalus, and quadriplegia. Both overall and specific complication rates were calculated in relation to the specific type of procedure.

RESULTS

In a series of 1792 procedures, the overall complication rate related to the sitting position was 1.45%, which included clinically significant VAE, tension pneumocephalus, and subdural hemorrhage. The rate of any detected VAE was 4.7%, but the rate of VAE requiring clinical intervention was 1.06%. The risk of clinically significant VAE was highest in patients undergoing suboccipital craniotomy/craniectomy with a rate of 2.7% and an odds ratio (OR) of 2.8 relative to deep brain stimulator cases (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.2–70, p = 0.04). Sitting cervical spine cases had a comparatively lower complication rate of 0.7% and an OR of 0.28 as compared with all cranial procedures (95% CI 0.12–0.67, p < 0.01). Sitting cervical cases were further subdivided into extradural and intradural procedures. The rate of complications in intradural cases was significantly higher (OR 7.3, 95% CI 1.4–39, p = 0.02) than for extradural cases. The risk of VAE in intradural spine procedures did not differ significantly from sitting suboccipital craniotomy/craniectomy cases (OR 0.69, 95% CI 0.09–5.4, p = 0.7). Two cases (0.1%) had to be aborted intraoperatively due to complications. There were no instances of intraoperative deaths, although there was a single death within 30 days of surgery.

CONCLUSIONS

In this large, modern series of cases performed in the sitting position, the complication rate was low. Suboccipital craniotomy/craniectomy was associated with the highest risk of complications. When appropriately used with modern anesthesia techniques, the sitting position provides a safe means of surgical access.

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Benjamin T. Himes, Arnoley S. Abcejo, Panagiotis Kerezoudis, Adip G. Bhargav, Katherine Trelstad-Andrist, Patrick R. Maloney, John L. D. Atkinson, Fredric B. Meyer, W. Richard Marsh and Mohamad Bydon

OBJECTIVE

The sitting or semisitting position in neurosurgery allows for several technical advantages, including improved visualization of the surgical field. However, it has also been associated with an increased risk of venous air embolisms and positioning-related complications that limit its commonplace adoption. The authors report a large, single-center series of cervical spine procedures performed with patients in the sitting or prone position in order to assess the perceived risk of intraoperative and postoperative complications associated with the sitting position.

METHODS

Noninstrumented, single-level posterior cervical spine procedures performed with patients in the sitting/semisitting or prone position from 2000 to 2016 at a single institution were reviewed. Institutional abstraction tools (DataMart and Chart Plus) were used to collect data from the medical records. The two positions were compared with regard to preoperative factors, intraoperative variables, and postoperative outcomes. Multivariable logistic regression models were fitted for 30-day readmission, 30-day return to the operating room, and complication rates.

RESULTS

A total of 750 patients (sitting, n = 480; prone, n = 270) were analyzed. The median age was 53 years for those who underwent surgery in the prone position and 50 years for those who underwent surgery in the sitting position (IQRs 45–62 years and 43–60 years, respectively), and 35% of the patients were female. Sitting cases were associated with significantly longer anesthetic times (221 minutes [range 199–252 minutes] vs 205 minutes [range 179–254 minutes]) and operative times (126 minutes [range 101–163 minutes] vs 149 minutes [120–181 minutes]). Cardiorespiratory events in the postanesthesia care unit (PACU) were comparable between the two groups, with the exception of episodes of apnea (2.6% vs 0.6%, p = 0.041) and hypoventilation (4.4% vs 0.8%, p < 0.003), which were more frequent in the prone-position cohort. On multivariable analysis, the effect of the sitting versus the prone position was not significant for 30-day readmission (OR 0.77, 95% CI 0.34–1.71, p = 0.52) or reoperation (OR 0.71, 95% CI 0.31–1.60, p = 0.40). The sitting position was associated with lower odds of developing any complication (OR 0.31, 95% CI 0.16–0.62, p < 0.001).

CONCLUSIONS

Based on the intraoperative and postoperative complications chosen in this study, the sitting position confers a similar safety profile to the prone position. This can be explained by a more anatomic positioning accounting for reduced temporary neurological deficits and reduced PACU-associated hypoventilation noted in this series. Nevertheless, the findings may also reflect institutional familiarity, experience, and mastery of this position type, and outcomes may not reflect practices in general.