Cervical spine injury outcome - A review of 101 cases treated in a tertiary referral unit
The original publication is available at http://www.samj.org.za
Cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating event for the patient and family. It has a huge impact on society because of the intensive resources required to manage the patient in both the acute and rehabilitation phases. Given the resource-limited setting in South Africa, questions are often raised regarding whether the outcome of this group of patients justifies the expense of their care. However local data have not been available to date. Objective. To evaluate the mortality, morbidity and functional outcome of cervical SCI patients in the South African environment. Material and methods. All cervical SCI patients managed in the acute spinal cord injury unit at Groote Schuur Hospital over a 12-month period were included. Epidemiological data, management, complications, neurological status and change were assessed. Those referred for rehabilitation were followed up in terms of mortality and ambulation status. Results. There were 101 patients, with an average age of 34.7 years. Motor vehicle accidents were the commonest cause of injury, with violence contributing 21%. Fifty-nine patients required referral to a rehabilitation unit. Of these, 18 were functional walkers, and only 6 were care-dependent. By 1 year post injury all but 1 patient had been discharged from the health service. Fourteen patients died; in half of these cases injury was at C5 level and above. Conclusion. Despite cervical SCI being a devastating event, aggressive early intervention yields a better-than-expected 1-year survival rate. Associated problems, such as pressure sores, remain a major problem both for the patient and in terms of health care costs. It is difficult to predict prognosis on presentation because of spinal shock. It is recommended that all patients initially be treated aggressively, with exit strategies in place once all the information is available and a confident assessment of poor prognosis can be made.