Surgical management of spinal epidural hematoma: relationship between surgical timing and neurological outcome

M T Lawton, R W Porter, J E Heiserman, R Jacobowitz, V K Sonntag, C A Dickman
Journal of Neurosurgery 1995, 83 (1): 1-7
Thirty patients were treated surgically for spinal epidural hematoma (SEH). Twelve of these cases resulted from spinal surgery, seven from epidural catheters, four from vascular lesions, three from anticoagulation medications, two from trauma, and two from spontaneous causes. Pain was the predominant initial symptom, and all patients developed neurological deficits. Eight patients had complete motor and sensory loss (Frankel Grade A); six had complete motor loss but some sensation preserved (Frankel Grade B); and 16 had incomplete loss of motor function (10 patients Frankel Grade C and six patients Frankel Grade D). The average interval from onset of initial symptom to maximum neurological deficit was 13 hours, and the average interval from onset of symptom to surgery was 23 hours. Surgical evacuation of the hematoma was performed in all patients; 26 of these improved; four remained unchanged, and no patients worsened (mean follow up 11 months). Complete recovery (Frankel Grade E) was observed in 43% of the patients and functional recovery (Frankel Grades D or E) was observed in 87%. One postoperative death occurred from a pulmonary embolus (surgical mortality 3%). Preoperative neurological status correlated with outcome; 83% of Frankel Grade D patients recovered completely compared to 25% of Frankel Grade A patients. The rapidity of surgical intervention also correlated with outcome; greater neurological recovery occurred as the interval from symptom onset to surgery decreased. Patients taken to surgery within 12 hours had better neurological outcomes than patients with identical preoperative Frankel grades whose surgery was delayed beyond 12 hours. This large series of SEH demonstrates that rapid diagnosis and emergency surgical treatment maximize neurological recovery. However, patients with complete neurological lesions or long-standing compression can improve substantially with surgery.

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