Incidence and severity of acute complications after spinal cord injury

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  • 1 Department of Neurosurgery, The Methodist Hospital;
  • | 2 Division of Biostatistics, University of Texas School of Public Health;
  • | 3 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, Texas;
  • | 5 Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, Virginia;
  • | 6 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Louisville, Kentucky;
  • | 7 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Maryland, Baltimore;
  • | 8 Department of Neurosurgery, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland;
  • | 9 Department of Neurosurgery, University of Miami, Florida;
  • | 10 Department of Neurosurgery, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and
  • | 4 Division of Neurosurgery, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada
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Object

The aim of this multicenter, prospective study was to determine the spectrum, incidence, and severity of complications during the initial hospitalization of patients with spinal cord injury.

Methods

The study was conducted at 9 university-affiliated hospitals that comprise the clinical centers of the North American Clinical Trials Network (NACTN) for Treatment of Spinal Cord Injury. The study population comprised 315 patients admitted to NACTN clinical centers between June 25, 2005, and November 2, 2010, who had American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale grades of A–D and were 18 years of age or older. Patients were managed according to a standardized protocol.

Results

The study population was 79% male with a median age of 44 years. The leading causes of injury were falls (37%) and motor vehicle accidents (28%). The distribution of initial ASIA grades were A (40%), B (16%), C (15%), and D (29%). Fifty-eight percent of patients sustained 1 or more severe, moderate, or mild complications. Complications were associated with more severe ASIA grade: 84% of patients with Grade A and 25% of patients with Grade D had at least 1 complication. Seventy-eight percent of complications occurred within 14 days of injury. The most frequent types of severe and moderate complications were respiratory failure, pneumonia, pleural effusion, anemia, cardiac dysrhythmia, and severe bradycardia. The mortality rate was 3.5% and was associated with increased age and preexisting morbidity.

Conclusions

Knowledge of the type, frequency, time of occurrence, and severity of specific complications that occur after spinal cord injury can aid in their early detection, treatment, and prevention. The data are of importance in evaluating and selecting therapy for clinical trials.

Abbreviations used in this paper:

ASIA = American Spinal Injury Association; DVT = deep venous thrombosis; GCS = Glasgow Coma Scale; NACTN = North American Clinical Trials Network; SCI = spinal cord injury; SCIWORA = SCI without radiographic abnormality.

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Contributor Notes

Address correspondence to: Robert G. Grossman, M.D., Department of Neurosurgery, The Methodist Hospital, 6560 Fannin, Suite 944, Houston, Texas 77030. email: rgrossman@tmhs.org.

Please include this information when citing this paper: DOI: 10.3171/2012.5.AOSPINE12127.

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