Background: Speech and swallowing dysfunctions are common following the anterior approach to the cervical spine. Despite functional morbidity and legal implications, the incidence and etiologic factors of these complications have not been adequately elucidated.
Objective: To better define speech and swallowing dysfunction both in the quantitative and qualitative sense.
Methods: A questionnaire was mailed to 497 patients who had undergone anterior cervical fusion or anterior cervical discectomy at a university hospital (study group). One hundred fifty questionnaires were sent to a control group.
Results: The study group response rate was 46%; the control group response was 51%. The incidence of hoarseness in the study group was 51%; the incidence in the control group was 19%. The difference was statistically significant (P<.01). Dysphagia was present in 60% of study group patients vs 23% of control group patients (P<.01). Qualitative questions revealed that constant hoarseness, pain with talking, difficulty eating solid foods, and odynophagia were significantly more common following the anterior approach to the cervical spine.
Conclusions: Our findings show a much higher incidence than previously reported of both voice and swallowing impairment following the anterior approach to the cervical spine. Hoarseness and dysphagia may adversely affect recovery and the patient's sense of well-being. Preoperative counseling and postoperative evaluation are essential.