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Brandon G. Chew, Christopher M. Spearman, Matthew R. Quigley and James E. Wilberger

Object

Magnetic resonance imaging is frequently used to evaluate patients with traumatic brain injury in the acute and subacute setting, and it can detect injuries to the brainstem, which are often associated with poor outcomes. This study was undertaken to determine which MRI and clinical factors provide prognostic information in patients with traumatic brainstem injuries.

Methods

The authors performed a retrospective analysis of cases involving patients admitted to a Level I trauma center who were identified in a prospective database as having suffered traumatic brainstem injury identified on MRI. Patient outcomes were dichotomized to dead/vegetative versus functional groups. Standard demographic data, admission Glasgow Coma Scale (GCS) scores, results of the motor component of the GCS examination at admission and 24 hours later, CT scan findings, and peak intracranial pressure were collected from medical records. Volumetric analysis of each patient's injuries was performed with T2-weighted and gradient echo sequences. The T2-weighted MRI sequence for each patient was reviewed to determine the anatomical location of injury within the brainstem and whether the injury crossed the midline.

Results

Thirty-six patients who met the study inclusion criteria were identified. At 6-month follow-up, 53% of these patients had poor outcomes and 47% had recovered. Patients with injuries to the medulla or deep bilateral injuries to the pons did not recover. The T2 volumes were found superior to gradient echo sequences in regard to predicting survival (ROC/AUC 0.67, p = 0.07 vs 0.60, p = 0.29, respectively), but neither reached statistical significance. The timing of MR image acquisition did not influence the findings. The time from admission to MRI did not differ significantly between the recovered group and the poor-outcome group (p = 0.52, Mann-Whitney test), and lesion size as measured by T2 volume did not vary with time to scan (R2 = 0.03, p = 0.3, linear regression). Performing a stepwise logistic regression with all the variables yielded the following factors related to recovery: crossing midline, p = 0.0156, OR 0.075; and 24-hour GCS motor score, p = 0.0045, OR = 2.25, c-statistic 0.913. Further examination of these 2 factors disclosed the following: none of 15 patients with midline-crossing lesions and a 24-hour GCS motor score of 4 or less recovered; conversely, 12 of 13 patients with lesions that did not cross midline recovered, regardless of GCS motor score.

Conclusions

Bilateral injury to the pons and medulla as detected on T2-weighted MRI sequences was associated with poor outcome in patients with brainstem injuries; T2 volumes were found superior to gradient echo sequences in regard to predicting survival, but neither reached statistical significance. When MRI findings were coupled with clinical examination findings, a strong correlation existed between poor outcome and the combination of bilateral brainstem injury and a motor GCS score of 4 or less 24 hours after admission.

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Brandon G. Chew, Christopher Swartz, Matthew R. Quigley, Daniel T. Altman, Richard H. Daffner and James E. Wilberger

Object

Clearance of the cervical spine in patients who have sustained trauma remains a contentious issue. Clinical examination alone is sufficient in neurologically intact patients without neck pain. Patients with neck pain or those with altered mental status or a depressed level of consciousness require further radiographic evaluation. However, no consensus exists as to the appropriate imaging modality. Some advocate multidetector CT (MDCT) scanning alone, but this has been criticized because MDCT is not sensitive in detecting ligamentous injuries that can often only be identified on MRI.

Methods

Patients were identified retrospectively from a prospectively maintained database at a Level I trauma center. All patients admitted between January 2004 and June 2011 who had a cervical MDCT scan interpreted by a board-certified radiologist as being without evidence of acute traumatic injury and who also had a cervical MRI study obtained during the same hospital admission were included. Data collected included patient demographics, mechanism of injury, Glasgow Coma Scale score at the time of MRI, the indication for and findings on MRI, and the number, type, and indication for cervical spine procedures.

Results

A total of 1004 patients were reviewed, of whom 614 were male, with an overall mean age of 47 years. The indication for MRI was neck pain in 662 patients, altered mental status in 467, and neurological signs or symptoms in 157. The MRI studies were interpreted as normal in 645 patients, evidencing ligamentous injury alone in 125, and showing nonspecific degenerative changes in the remaining patients. Of the 125 patients with ligamentous injuries, 66 (52.8%) had documentation of clearance (29 clinical, 37 with flexion-extension radiographs). Another 32 patients were presumed to be self-cleared, bringing the follow-up rate to 82% (98 of 119). Five patients died prior to clearance, and 1 patient was transferred to another facility prior to clearance. Based on these data, the 95% confidence interval for the assertion that clinically irrelevant ligamentous injury in the face of normal MDCT is 97%–100%. No patient with ligamentous injury on MRI was documented to require a surgical procedure or halo orthosis for instability. Thirty-nine patients ultimately underwent cervical surgical procedures (29 anterior and 10 posterior; 5 delayed) for central cord syndrome (21), quadriparesis (9), or discogenic radicular pain (9). None had an unstable spine.

Conclusions

In this study population, MRI did not add any additional information beyond MDCT in identifying unstable cervical spine injuries. Magnetic resonance imaging frequently detected ligamentous injuries, none of which were found to be unstable at the time of detection, during the course of admission, or on follow-up. Magnetic resonance imaging provided beneficial clinical information and guided surgical procedures in patients with neurological deficits or radicular pain. An MDCT study with sagittal and coronal reconstructions negative for acute injury in patients without an abnormal motor examination may be sufficient alone for clearance.