Frequency and Outcomes of Cervical Spine Computed Tomography Imaging on Alcohol-Intoxicated Patients in the Emergency Department

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Journal of Emergency Medicine


Background: Cervical spinal (c-spine) injuries range greatly in severity from minor ligamentous injuries to osteoligamentous instability with spinal cord injuries. Initial evaluation begins with stabilization as needed and immediate immobilization. Current practice as to whether the c-spine can be cleared clinically without radiographic evaluation is often guided by using the National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study Low-Risk Criteria and the Canadian C-Spine Rule. Under these clinical decision guidelines, stable trauma patients presenting with alcohol intoxication cannot have the c-spine cleared clinically and imaging should be "considered."

Objective: This study aimed to assess the frequency of computed tomography (CT) c-spine scans ordered for patients presenting with alcohol intoxication to the emergency department (ED), the timing of the studies, and subsequently determine the proportion of which showed a clinically significant result that required intervention.

Methods: In this retrospective medical record review, all clinically alcohol-intoxicated patients presenting to two academic EDs were included. Overall demographic characteristics, time to order of CT imaging, radiology reads, and outcomes of patient visits were determined.

Results: There were 8008 patient visits included in the study. Of these visits, 5 patients scanned in ≤3 h had acute findings on CT scan and no patients with a deferred timing of CT scan after patients metabolized had an acute finding on CT scan. No patients required operative management.

Conclusions: This study's results suggest that it is a safe clinical practice to defer CT imaging for patients presenting to the ED with alcohol intoxication and low suspicion for c-spine injury per history and examination.



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Canadian C-Spine Rule, NEXUS criteria, alcohol intoxication, c-spine, cervical spine