The value of cervical magnetic resonance imaging in the evaluation of the obtunded or comatose patient with cervical trauma, no other abnormal neurological findings, and a normal cervical computed tomography

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Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The value of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the evaluation of the obtunded or comatose patient with a potential neck injury is a controversial subject. Some authors have suggested that MRI of the cervical spine adds no value in the evaluation of patients with a normal computed tomography (CT) of the neck. However, others have suggested that MRI is the gold standard for clearing the cervical spine in a clinically suspicious or unevaluatable blunt trauma patient. The purpose of this study is to evaluate our data in regard to these conflicting hypotheses.

METHODS:

Five consecutive years of data from 17,000 patients seen at our Level I trauma center yielded 512 individuals who underwent both CT and MRI of the cervical spine. Of the latter group, 150 individuals met three strict inclusion criteria for this study: (1) obtundation (Glasgow Coma Scale ≤13, with 94 of this group comatose [Glasgow Coma Scale ≤8]); (2) no obvious neurologic deficits; and (3) a normal cervical CT. The effect of MRI on the clinical management of these patients was evaluated.

RESULTS:

Among the 150 obtunded or comatose patients with a negative CT, the majority (51%) had a normal MRI. Among the patients with a positive MRI, the most common MRI-positive findings were ligamentous and soft tissue injury (81%). However, no MRI findings were deemed unstable, and no surgical intervention or change in the clinical management aside from collar immobilization of these individuals occurred after MRI.

CONCLUSIONS:

The addition of a cervical MRI to the evaluation protocol of obtunded or comatose patients with an otherwise normal neurologic examination and a normal cervical CT did not provide any additional useful information to change the management of these patients.

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