Background: Respiratory failure is a serious complication that can adversely affect the hospital course and survival of multiply injured patients. Some studies have suggested that delayed surgical stabilization of spine fractures may increase the incidence of respiratory complications. However, the authors of these studies analyzed small sets of patients and did not assess the independent effects of multiple risk factors.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study was conducted at a regional level-I trauma center to identify risk factors for respiratory failure in patients with surgically treated thoracic and lumbar spine fractures. Demographic, diagnostic, and procedural variables were identified. The incidence of respiratory failure was determined in an adult respiratory distress syndrome registry maintained concurrently at the same institution. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used to determine independent risk factors for respiratory failure. An algorithm was formulated to predict respiratory failure.
Results: Respiratory failure developed in 140 of the 1032 patients in the study cohort. Patients with respiratory failure were older; had a higher mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) and Charlson Comorbidity Index Score; had greater incidences of pneumothorax, pulmonary contusion, and thoracic level injury; had a lower mean Glasgow Coma Score (GCS); were more likely to have had a posterior surgical approach; and had a longer mean time from admission to surgical stabilization than the patients without respiratory failure (p < 0.05). Multivariate analysis identified five independent risk factors for respiratory failure: an age of more than thirty-five years, an ISS of >25 points, a GCS of ≤12 points, blunt chest injury, and surgical stabilization performed more than two days after admission. An algorithm was created to determine, on the basis of the number of preoperative predictors present, the relative risk of respiratory failure when surgery was delayed for more than two days.
Conclusions: Independent risk factors for respiratory failure were identified in an analysis of a large cohort of patients who had undergone operative stabilization of thoracic and lumbar spine fractures. Early operative stabilization of these fractures, the only risk factor that can be controlled by the physician, may decrease the risk of respiratory failure in multiply injured patients.
Level of Evidence: Prognostic Level II. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.