Incidence of Dysphagia After Anterior Cervical Spine Surgery: A Prospective Study

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Abstract

Study Design.

A prospective longitudinal study was conducted to evaluate dysphagia after anterior cervical spine surgery.

Objectives.

To evaluate the incidence and natural history of dysphagia after anterior cervical spine surgery, and to identify risk factors for the development of postoperative dysphagia.

Summary of Background Data.

The literature contains only retrospective evaluations of postoperative dysphagia. A wide range of incidence has been reported in these studies.

Methods.

Altogether, 249 consecutive patients undergoing anterior cervical spine surgery were eligible for the study. These patients were contacted 1, 2, 6, and 12 months after the procedure to evaluate swallowing. Risk factors such as age, gender, procedure type, hardware use, and number and location of surgical levels addressed were assessed.

Results.

Dysphagia incidences of 50.2%, 32.2%, 17.8%, and 12.5% were found at 1, 2, 6, and 12 months, respectively. At 6 months after the procedure, only 4.8% of the patients were experiencing moderate or severe dysphagia. Patient age, type of procedure (corpectomy vs. discectomy or primary vs. revision), hardware presence, and location of surgical levels were not statistically significant risk factors for the development of postoperative dysphagia. Female gender was significant for increased risk of dysphagia at 6 months. Surgery at multiple disc levels increased the risk of postoperative dysphagia at 1 and 2 months. The etiology of the dysphagia in most of the patients was unknown. However, vocal cord paresis was identified in 1.3% of the patients at 12 months.

Conclusions.

Dysphagia after anterior cervical spine surgery is a common early finding. However, it decreases significantly by 6 months. The minority of patients experience moderate or severe symptoms by 6 months after the procedure. Female gender and multiple surgical levels could be identified as risk factors for the development of postoperative dysphagia.

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