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The Effects of Perioperative Corticosteroids on Dysphagia Following Surgical Procedures Involving the Anterior Cervical Spine

A Prospective, Randomized, Controlled, Double-Blinded Clinical Trial

Cui, Shari MD1; Daffner, Scott D. MD1; France, John C. MD1; Emery, Sanford E. MD, MBA1

The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery: November 20, 2019 - Volume 101 - Issue 22 - p 2007-2014
doi: 10.2106/JBJS.19.00198
Scientific Articles
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Background: Dysphagia is one of the most common complications of surgical procedures in the anterior cervical spine, and can persist up to 2 years postoperatively. Corticosteroids are relatively safe and inexpensive for treating various inflammatory conditions. Perioperative corticosteroid administration for anterior cervical spine procedures may effectively minimize postoperative dysphagia, potentially leading to better outcomes, decreased readmission rates, and improved patient satisfaction. The purpose of this study was to determine the efficacy of perioperative corticosteroids in decreasing the severity and duration of dysphagia following single-level and multilevel anterior cervical spine procedures.

Methods: Seventy-four patients undergoing elective anterior cervical surgical procedures for degenerative conditions were recruited. Patients with prior cervical procedures; with a diagnosis of fracture, malignancy, or infection; or requiring combined anterior-posterior procedures were excluded. Patients were randomized to perioperative intravenous dexamethasone or saline solution. Doses were administered before incision and at 8 and 16 hours postoperatively. Investigators and patients were blinded to the treatment throughout the study. Dysphagia outcomes were assessed with use of the Bazaz dysphagia scale and the Dysphagia Short Questionnaire (DSQ) at 1 day, 2 days, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, and 12 months postoperatively. Statistical analysis was performed comparing means and standard deviations; significance was set at p < 0.05. Clinical outcomes were measured with use of the Quality of Life-12 and Neck Disability Index.

Results: Sixty-four patients were included in the analysis. There were 49 anterior cervical discectomies and fusions, 8 corpectomies, 1 hybrid procedure (corpectomy and adjacent discectomy), and 6 single-level arthroplasties. Patients who received corticosteroids had significantly better dysphagia scores on both the Bazaz scale and DSQ at most time points up to 6 months postoperatively (p < 0.05). On subgroup analysis, patients with multilevel (≥2-level) fusion benefited significantly from corticosteroids on both scales, whereas those with single-level procedures did not. There were no short-term wound complications or infections, and length of stay and fusion rates were comparable.

Conclusions: Perioperative administration of corticosteroids can reduce dysphagia symptoms following multilevel anterior cervical procedures. Benefit was noted immediately and up to 6 months postoperatively. There was no significant effect on short-term wound-healing, infection rates, length of stay, or fusion rates.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia

Email address for S. Cui:

Investigation performed at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia

Disclosure: This study was supported by a Cervical Spine Research Society 21st Century Development Grant. On the Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest forms, which are provided with the online version of the article, one or more of the authors checked “yes” to indicate that the author had other relationships or activities that could be perceived to influence, or have the potential to influence, what was written in this work (

Copyright © 2019 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated
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