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Complications of anterior cervical discectomy without fusion in 450 consecutive patients

H Bertalanffy, H R Eggert
Acta Neurochirurgica 1989, 99 (1-2): 41-50
The complications of anterior discectomy without fusion were analyzed on the basis of 450 consecutive cases treated surgically for degenerative disc disease. There was no death related to the procedure. The most common complication was a worsening of the pre-existing myelopathy. This occurred in 3.3%, including one case with severe medullary contusion. Wound infection developed in 1.6%. Additional radicular symptoms and wound haematoma, respectively, occurred in 1.3%; recurrent nerve palsy, Horner's syndrome, and respiratory insufficiency, respectively, in 1.1% of the cases. Epidural haematoma and instability of the cervical spine, respectively, occurred in 0.9%, nerve root lesion and aseptic spondylodiscitis, respectively, in 0.4%. There was one case each (0.2%) with a pharyngeal lesion, meningitis due to dural perforation, transient additional myelopathy, and epidural abscess. The results and the management of complications are discussed in relation to numerous previously published reports, including posterior procedures and anterior fusion techniques. Precise knowledge of all potential accidents and pitfalls related to the surgical procedure and of their aetiology may contribute to preventing failures. The rate of complications in this series has been reduced in the past years by better patient selection, by paying more attention to correct positioning of the patient during the operation, and by meticulous removal of all offending structures. Discectomy without interbody fusion is now considered to be a reasonably safe procedure with an acceptable operative morbidity and lack of mortality.

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