Traumatic atlanto-occipital dissociation: No longer a death sentence

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Abstract

Background:

Traumatic atlanto-occipital dissociation is considered highly unstable and was once believed to be uniformly fatal. With recent advances in prehospital care, coupled with early diagnosis and stabilization, these injuries are potentially survivable. The aim of this study was to identify potentially modifiable risk factors associated with improved outcomes after a traumatic atlanto-occipital dissociation.

Methods:

Patients with traumatic atlanto-occipital dissociation over a 17-year period were identified and stratified by age, sex, injury severity, and severity of shock. Time to diagnosis, time to and method of stabilization, and mortality were compared. Multivariable logistic regression was performed to determine which factors were independent predictors of mortality.

Results:

Fifty-two patients were identified with a mean age of 44, an admission Glasgow Coma Score of 8, and an Injury Severity Score of 34; of these 52 patients, 38 (73%) underwent stabilization. Overall mortality was 33%. Of the survivors, 34 patients (97%) were discharged neurologically intact. One patient was discharged with neurologic deficits. Multivariable logistic regression identified admission Glasgow Coma Score (odds ratio 0.7; 95% confidence interval 0.552–0.877) as the only independent predictor of death after traumatic atlanto-occipital dissociation.

Conclusion:

Traumatic atlanto-occipital dissociation remains a rare injury following blunt trauma. Clinical presentation is a predictor of mortality. Prompt diagnosis is crucial in promoting rapid stabilization and improving survivability. Survival to hospital discharge portends improved functional outcome.

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