Somatosensory Evoked Potentials Help Prevent Positioning-Related Brachial Plexus Injury during Skull Base Surgery

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Abstract

Objective

Evaluate the use of somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEP) monitoring to detect positioning-related brachial plexus injury during skull base surgery.

Study Design

Prospective cohort observational study.

Setting

University Hospital.

Subjects and Methods

Patients undergoing skull base surgery had a focused neurologic exam of the brachial plexus performed before and after surgery. Under stable anesthesia, brachial plexus SSEP values were obtained before and after surgical positioning. Significant SSEP changes required a readjustment of arm or neck positions. SSEPs were assessed every 30 minutes. If changes were noted, position was readjusted and SSEPs were reassessed until surgical completion. Demographic data, neurologic exams, SSEP latency, and amplitude values were recorded. Persistent changes were correlated with postoperative neurologic findings.

Results

Sixty-five patients, 15 to 77 years old, were studied. Six patients (9.2%) developed SSEP amplitude changes after positioning (average amplitude decrease 72.8%). One patient had a significant latency increase. The sensitivity of SSEP for detection of injury was 57%, while specificity was 94.7%. The average body mass index (BMI) of patients with normal and abnormal SSEPs was 28.7 ± 5.6 versus 29.2 ± 8.0, respectively. Average BMI of patients with postoperative symptoms regardless of SSEP findings was 33.8 ± 4.3. Two patients who had persistent SSEP changes after positioning had BMIs of 40.1 and 31.2 kg/m2, respectively. Improvement in neurologic findings occurred in all patients after surgery.

Conclusions

This study demonstrates that upper extremity nerve stress can be detected in real time using SSEP and may be of value in protecting patients from nerve injury undergoing lateral skull base surgery.

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