Objective: To assess the effect of timing and techniques of tracheostomy on morbidity, mortality, and the burden of resources in patients with acute traumatic spinal cord injuries (SCls) undergoing mechanical ventilation.
Design: Review of a prospectively collected database.
Setting: Intensive and intermediate care units of a monographic hospital for the treatment of SCI.
Participants: Consecutive patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) during their first inpatient rehabilitation for cervical and thoracic traumatic SCI. A total of 323 patients were included: 297 required mechanical ventilation and 215 underwent tracheostomy.
Outcome measures: Demographic data, data relevant to the patients' neurological injuries (level and grade of spinal cord damage), tracheostomy technique and timing, duration of mechanical ventilation, length of stay at ICU, incidence of pneumonia, incidence of perioperative and early postoperative complications, and mortality.
Results: Early tracheostomy (<7 days after orotracheal intubation) tracheostomy was performed in 101 patients (47%) and late (> or = 7 days) in 114 (53%). Surgical tracheostomy was employed in 119 cases (55%) and percutaneous tracheostomy in 96 (45%). There were 61 complications in 53 patients related to all tracheostomy procedures. Two were qualified as serious (tracheoesophageal fistula and mediastinal abscess). Other complications were mild. Bleeding was moderate in one case (late, percutaneous tracheostomy). Postoperative infection rate was low. Mortality of all causes was also low.
Conclusion: Early tracheostomy may have favorable effects in patients with acute traumatic SC. Both techniques, percutaneous and surgical tracheostomy, can be performed safely in the ICU.