Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF) is an effective surgical modality for many lumbar degenerative pathologies, but a rare and infrequently reported complication is postoperative lymphocele. The goals of the present study were to review a large consecutive series of patients who underwent ALIF at a high-volume institution, estimate the rate of lymphocele occurrence after ALIF, and investigate the outcomes of patients who developed lymphocele after ALIF.
A retrospective review of the electronic medical record was completed, identifying all patients (≥ 18 years old) who underwent at a minimum a single-level ALIF from 2012 through 2019. Postoperative spinal and abdominal images, as well as radiologist reports, were reviewed for mention of lymphocele. Clinical data were collected and reported.
A total of 1322 patients underwent a minimum 1-level ALIF. Of these patients, 937 (70.9%) had either postoperative abdominal or lumbar spine images, and the resulting lymphocele incidence was 2.1% (20/937 patients). The mean ± SD age was 67 ± 10.9 years, and the male/female ratio was 1:1. Patients with lymphocele were significantly older than those without lymphocele (66.9 vs 58.9 years, p = 0.006). In addition, patients with lymphocele had a greater number of mean levels fused (2.5 vs 1.8, p < 0.001) and were more likely to have undergone ALIF at L2–4 (95.0% vs 66.4%, p = 0.007) than patients without lymphocele. On subsequent multivariate analysis, age (OR 1.07, 95% CI 1.01–1.12, p = 0.013), BMI (OR 1.10, 95% CI 1.01–1.18, p = 0.021), and number of levels fused (OR 1.82, 95% CI 1.05–3.14, p = 0.032) were independent prognosticators of postoperative lymphocele development. Patients with symptomatic lymphocele were successfully treated with either interventional radiology (IR) drainage and/or sclerosis therapy and achieved radiographic resolution. The mean ± SD length of hospital stay was 9.1 ± 5.2 days. Ten patients (50%) were postoperatively discharged to a rehabilitation center: 8 patients (40%) were discharged to home, 1 (5%) to a skilled nursing facility, and 1 (5%) to a long-term acute care facility.
After ALIF, 2.1% of patients were diagnosed with radiographically identified postoperative lymphocele and had risk factors such as increased age, BMI, and number of levels fused. Most patients presented within 1 month postoperatively, and their clinical presentations included abdominal pain, abdominal distension, and/or wound complications. Of note, 25% of identified lymphoceles were discovered incidentally. Patients with symptomatic lymphocele were successfully treated with either IR drainage and/or sclerosis therapy and achieved radiographic resolution.