Predictors of pulmonary complications in blunt traumatic spinal cord injury

J Neurosurg Spine. 2012 Sep;17(1 Suppl):38-45. doi: 10.3171/2012.4.AOSPINE1295.


Object: Pulmonary complications are the most common acute systemic adverse events following spinal cord injury (SCI), and contribute to morbidity, mortality, and increased length of hospital stay (LOS). Identification of factors associated with pulmonary complications would be of value in prevention and acute care management. Predictors of pulmonary complications after SCI and their effect on neurological recovery were prospectively studied between 2005 and 2009 at the 9 hospitals in the North American Clinical Trials Network (NACTN).

Methods: The authors sought to address 2 specific aims: 1) define and analyze the predictors of moderate and severe pulmonary complications following SCI; and 2) investigate whether pulmonary complications negatively affected the American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) Impairment Scale conversion rate of patients with SCI. The NACTN registry of the demographic data, neurological findings, imaging studies, and acute hospitalization duration of patients with SCI was used to analyze the incidence and severity of pulmonary complications in 109 patients with early MR imaging and long-term follow-up (mean 9.5 months). Univariate and Bayesian logistic regression analyses were used to analyze the data.

Results: In this study, 86 patients were male, and the mean age was 43 years. The causes of injury were motor vehicle accidents and falls in 80 patients. The SCI segmental level was in the cervical, thoracic, and conus medullaris regions in 87, 14, and 8 patients, respectively. Sixty-four patients were neurologically motor complete at the time of admission. The authors encountered 87 complications in 51 patients: ventilator-dependent respiratory failure (26); pneumonia (25); pleural effusion (17); acute lung injury (6); lobar collapse (4); pneumothorax (4); pulmonary embolism (2); hemothorax (2), and mucus plug (1). Univariate analysis indicated associations between pulmonary complications and younger age, sports injuries, ASIA Impairment Scale grade, ascending neurological level, and lesion length on the MRI studies at admission. Bayesian logistic regression indicated a significant relationship between pulmonary complications and ASIA Impairment Scale Grades A (p = 0.0002) and B (p = 0.04) at admission. Pulmonary complications did not affect long-term conversion of ASIA Impairment Scale grades.

Conclusions: The ASIA Impairment Scale grade was the fundamental clinical entity predicting pulmonary complications. Although pulmonary complications significantly increased LOS, they did not increase mortality rates and did not adversely affect the rate of conversion to a better ASIA Impairment Scale grade in patients with SCI. Maximum canal compromise, maximum spinal cord compression, and Acute Physiology and Chronic Health Evaluation-II score had no relationship to pulmonary complications.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / etiology*
  • Lung Diseases / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Treatment Outcome