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Objective: The purpose of this study was to assess whether the use of high dose methylprednisolone (MPS) given to trauma patients with acute spinal cord injury improves neurological and long term functional outcomes.

Summary of Background Data: The National Acute Spinal Cord Injury Studies (NASCIS II and III) recommend the early administration of high dose MPS in the context of acute spinal cord injury. However, controversy exists surrounding its long term benefits.

Methods: A retrospective data analysis was performed using the Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) trauma registry, medical records, and rehabilitation notes of 263 trauma patients with acute spinal injury admitted over a 6-year period. All survivors over 16 years of age with documented spinal cord injuries were selected. Frankel grade, Injury Severity Score (ISS), and Functional Independence Measure (FIM) scores (minimum FIM of 18 implies total dependence, and a maximum of 126 implies no disability) as indicators of neurological and functional morbidity were recorded at initial presentation, hospital discharge, and intervals up to 12 months post injury. Details of the age, gender, mechanism of injury, nature of injury and associated injuries were also recorded.

Results: There were 139 patients (107 males and 32 women) with documented acute spinal cord injuries, of which 74 patients had neurological deficits (Frankel A–D) at presentation. 49 patients were given high dose MPS within 8 hours of injury according to a standard protocol. The remaining 25 patients with documented neurological injury did not meet criteria or failed to receive the agent within the recommended time. The mean ISS scores were shown to be comparable in both groups. 59% (29/49) of patients who were given MPS showed an improvement of one or greater Frankel grade at the time of discharge whereas 52% (13/25) of patients who did not receive MPS showed a similar improvement in Frankel grades. We had long term functional outcome data (FIM scores) on 48% (67/139) of the total number of patients. At the time of discharge, the mean FIM scores for the MPS treated group and non MPS treated group were 68 and 90, respectively. Whereas at 12 months, there was no significant difference in the mean FIM scores between the two groups (both of which were > 100).

Conclusions: The Frankel grade assesses the degree of neurological impairment while FIM scores are a basic measure of the severity of disability regardless of the underlying impairment. In our study, patients given high dose MPS in the context of acute spinal cord injury showed some early improvement in Frankel grades. However, we have shown, there is no short term or long term benefit in terms of functional outcome by using MPS in trauma patients with acute spinal cord injury.

Correspondence should be addressed to: Sue Woodward, Secreteriat, Britspine, Vale Clinic, Hensol Park, Vale of Glamorgan, CF72 8JY Wales.