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Neurology. 2011 Sep 27;77(13):1235-40. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182302068. Epub 2011 Sep 14.

Safety of spinal angiography: complication rate analysis in 302 diagnostic angiograms.

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  • 1Nelson Building B-100, 600 N. Wolfe St, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA.



Spinal digital subtraction angiography (SpDSA) continues to be the imaging gold standard for the evaluation of spinal cord vascular disorders. The safety of this procedure has a poor historical reputation and there are few current reports on complication rates. We hypothesized that modern SpDSA can be performed with an acceptably low risk of iatrogenic complications.


In this retrospective series, we reviewed 302 consecutive spinal angiograms performed during a 10-year period at our institution for the frequency of intraprocedural and postprocedural neurologic, non-neurologic, and local complications. Indications for SpDSA, prior noninvasive imaging findings, and angiographic diagnoses for each case were assessed to evaluate the diagnostic contribution of the procedure.


There were no intraprocedural or postprocedural neurologic complications in the studied cohort. Systemic complications occurred in 2 cases (0.7%), in the form of back spasms in one patient and pulmonary edema in the other. Both recovered promptly and were discharged at baseline status. Access-site complications included 3 groin hematomas (1.0%), all managed conservatively. MRI findings showed 51% sensitivity and 83% specificity for spinal vascular malformations. A total of 31% of patients with the preangiographic diagnosis of transverse myelitis were found to have a vascular malformation.


SpDSA carries very low risks of neurologic and systemic complications, while offering a gold-standard level of diagnostic confidence for the evaluation of the normal and pathologic vasculature of the spinal cord.

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