Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 21, Issue 10, pp 1063–1068

Potential outcome factors in subacute combined degeneration

Review of observational studies


  • Olavo M. Vasconcelos
    • Department of NeurologyUniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
  • Erika H. Poehm
    • Department of NeurologyUniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
  • Robert J. McCarter
    • Biostatistics and Informatics UnitGeorge Washington University School of Medicine
  • William W. Campbell
    • Department of NeurologyUniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
  • Zenaide M. N. Quezado
    • Department of Anesthesia and Surgical Services, NIH Clinical CenterNational Institutes of Health
Original Articles

DOI: 10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00525.x

Cite this article as:
Vasconcelos, O.M., Poehm, E.H., McCarter, R.J. et al. J GEN INTERN MED (2006) 21: 1063. doi:10.1111/j.1525-1497.2006.00525.x


BACKGROUND: Subacute combined degeneration is an acquired myelopathy caused by vitamin B12 deficiency. Therapy with B12 leads to improvement in most but to complete recovery in only a few patients. Prognostic indicators in subacute combined degeneration are unknown; therefore, predicting complete recovery of neurologic deficits is challenging.

PURPOSE: To identify potential correlates of outcome and to generate hypotheses concerning predictors of complete resolution of neurologic deficits in subacute combined degeneration.

DATA SOURCE: We searched EMBASE (1974 to October 2005), MEDLINE (1968 to October 2005), and references from identified reports.

REPORTS SELECTION: Reports of patients with subacute combined degeneration containing results of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and description of outcome and 1 patient treated by the authors.

DATA EXTRACTION, SYNTHESIS: We extracted data from 45 reports and 57 patients (36 males, 21 females: age range: 10 to 81) with a diagnosis of subacute combined degeneration, and estimated the strength of association between clinical, laboratory, and radiological factors and complete resolution of signs and symptoms.

RESULTS: Eight patients (14%) achieved clinical resolution and 49 (86%) improved with B12 therapy. The absence of sensory dermatomal deficit, Romberg, and Babinski signs were associated with a higher complete resolution rate. Patients with MRI lesions in ≤7 segments and age less than 50 also appear to have higher rates of complete resolution.

CONCLUSIONS: B12 therapy is reported to stop progression and improve neurologic deficits in most patients with subacute combined degeneration. However, complete resolution only occurs in a small percentage of patients and appears to be associated with factors suggestive of less severe disease at the time of diagnosis.

Key words

subacute combined degenerationSCDnitrous oxidecobalaminvitamin B12combined system degeneration

Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 2006