Objective: Dysphagia is a relatively common occurrence in the postoperative period following anterior cervical surgery, with some indicating rates as high as 79%. In most cases, it remains only a transient phenomenon. The cause has been debated, with most speculating injury to nerves in the swallowing mechanism. The objective of this study was to determine if the presence of instrumentation during anterior cervical surgery in the outpatient setting would affect the incidence, duration and severity of dysphagia.
Methods: We did a retrospective review of the medical records of 50 consecutive patients who had undergone single-level instrumented anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. Then we compared that group with our control group of 50 patients who had had simple single-level anterior cervical discectomy without instrumentation or fusion. The patients were evaluated for the presence of dysphagia as well as neck disability index outcome scores.
Results: There was no significant difference between the groups in postoperative neck disability index outcomes at the two-year follow-up (p = 0.182). Dysphagia occurred only in the instrumented group, with an incidence of 12% (six patients): their symptoms lasted on average three weeks, and all six patients experienced only mild severity on the Bazaz-Yoo scale. There was statistically significant difference between the two groups (p = 0.012).
Conclusion: There was a greater trend towards postoperative dysphagia in cases with instrumentation (12% of the patients). Dysphagia was transient with mild severity in patients who received instrumentation compared with those who underwent discectomy alone.