Odontoid Fractures in the Elderly: Should we Operate?

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BACKGROUND: : Treatment of odontoid fractures remains controversial. There are conflicting data in the literature with regard to timing of operative fixation (OP), as well as whether OP should be performed. Within our own institution, treatment is variable depending largely on surgeon preference. This study was undertaken in an attempt to develop management consensus by examining outcomes in elderly patients with odontoid fractures and comparing OP to a nonoperative (non-OP) approach.

METHODS: : The trauma registry of our level I trauma center was queried for elderly (age > or = 60) patients with odontoid fractures from January 2000 to May 2006. Patients were then grouped according to treatment, early-OP (< or =3 days posttrauma), late-OP (>3 days), or non-OP treatment. Patient characteristics that were evaluated and compared among the three groups included age, Injury Severity Score, preexisting conditions, and the type of odontoid fracture. Outcomes evaluated included in-hospital mortality, ventilator days, hospital length of stay (HLOS), need for tracheostomy and percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG), and the complications of urinary tract infection (UTI), deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and pneumonia. Differences among groups were tested using analysis of variance, Students t test, chi, and Fishers exact test.

RESULTS: : The non-OP patients were significantly older than either operative group (mean, 82.4 for non-OP; 77.4 for early-OP; and 76.4 for late-OP; p = 0.006 non-OP compared with either operative group). Injury Severity Score, number of preexisting conditions, mechanism of injury, and distribution of type of odontoid fractures were similar among all three groups. There was no statistically significant difference in mortality among the three groups (11.7% early-OP, 8.7% late-OP, and 17.6% non-OP). There was also no difference among all three groups with respect for the need for tracheostomy and PEG and the development of UTI or pneumonia. However, there were significantly less DVTs in the non-OP group compared with the early-OP group (2.9% vs. 17.6%, p = 0.02). The percentage of patients discharged to a skilled nursing facility was similar among all three groups. The non-OP group had a significant decrease in both ventilator days and HLOS when compared with the operative groups. Only 2.9% of non-OP patients returned for OP for nonunion of the odontoid fracture.

CONCLUSIONS: : Despite being an older population, elderly patients with odontoid fracture who were managed non-OP had similar mortality, UTI, and pneumonia rates compared with their younger counterparts who underwent OP. The need for tracheostomy and PEG and discharge disposition was similar among all three groups. Elderly patients with odontoid fracture managed non-OP had a reduction in HLOS and ventilator days compared with either operative group and less DVT compared with the early operative group. Based on these results, non-OP management should be given strong consideration in elderly patients with traumatic odontoid fractures.





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Medical Specialties | Medicine and Health Sciences | Other Medical Specialties | Surgery




Department of Community Health and Health Studies, Department of Surgery, Department of Surgery Faculty

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