The object of this study was to identify, by means of a systematic review of the literature, the acute clinical predictors of neurological outcome, functional outcome, and survival after traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI).
A comprehensive computerized literature review search was performed, using MEDLINE, PubMed, EMBASE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Selected articles were classified according to their level of evidence. Articles were then stratified into one of 3 domains depending on whether the primary focus was clinical prediction of 1) neurological outcome, 2) functional status, or 3) survival. For each study selected, clinical predictors related to patient demographic characteristics, injury mechanism, or neurological examination findings were extracted, and the individual relationship to outcome was defined.
The initial search resulted in 376 citations. After application of the inclusion and exclusion criteria and study review, 51 relevant articles were identified and graded. Of these, 25 provided predictors for neurological outcome, 22 for functional outcome, and 15 for survival, with several of the articles providing information on more than one type of outcome. All of the included studies were designated as providing Class I, II, or III levels of evidence. The severity of neurological injury (as measured by admission Americal Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale grade, Frankel grade, or injury completeness), level of injury, and the presence of a zone of partial preservation were consistent predictors of neurological outcome. Severity of neurological injury, level of injury, reflex pattern, and age were consistent predictors of functional outcome. Finally, severity of neurological injury, level of injury, age, and the presence of multisystem trauma seen with higher-energy injury mechanisms were consistent predictors of survival.
On the basis on this review, the authors have identified a constellation of acute clinical features that may help to define an individual's profile for recovery and survival after SCI. This study will help to facilitate communication in the clinical realm and assist in classifying subsets of patients within future clinical studies.