Improving the imaging diagnosis of cervical spine injury in the very elderly: implications of the epidemiology of injury
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Purpose: To enumerate host and vector factors that affect each phase of cervical spine injury (CSI) among the elderly, and to attribute specific pathoanatomic characteristics of CSI to host and/or vector factors. Methods: Structured review of English literature references selected from MEDLINE keyword search using PUBMED and OVID search engines. Only articles addressing the role of “aging” or being “elderly” (using a variety of definitions) in CSI were included. The following information was abstracted: journal; year of publication; authors' specialty or departmental affiliation; study design; inclusion and exclusion criteria; year(s) of data collection; number of CSI vs. controls; summary findings, including rate estimates, obvious study weaknesses. Results: Seven of 13 articles were medical-record-based case series, most derived from institutional trauma registries. Four were population-based surveys. One was an assessment of Medicare claims data for all-cause trauma and one a review paper. Blunt-force CSI was most commonly related to domestic falls, then to vehicular-pedestrian collisions and finally to vehicular crashes. More than two-thirds of fractures involved CO-C3, especially in individuals with cervical spondylosis and/or osteoporosis. In 15 to 40 % of CO-C3 fractures there is a delay in diagnosis. An adult forme fruste of SCIWORA (spinal cord injury without radiographic abnormality) was a relatively common cause of central and anterior cord syndromes in the absence of observable fractures or dislocations. Conclusions: The epidemiology of CSI in elderly patients should inform triage and imaging decisions. Since most CSI diagnostic errors involve the upper cervical spine, additional attention to the radiographic anatomy of the craniocervical junction and diligent search for abnormalities in this region are warranted.
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