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Am Surg. 2014 Feb;80(2):182-4.

Evaluation of cervical spine fracture in the elderly: can we trust our physical examination?

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Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia, USA.


The purpose of this trial was to compare National Emergency X-Radiography Utilization Study (NEXUS) criteria (NC) with computed tomography (CT) as the gold standard to evaluate cervical spine (C-spine) fractures in elderly blunt trauma patients. We prospectively compared adult blunt trauma patients 65 years or older (E) with younger than 65 years (NE), evaluating the sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) of NC compared with CT in these two cohorts. A total of 2785 blunt trauma patients were included of whom 320 were E (average age, 75 years) and 2465 were NE (average age, 36 years). Incidence of C-spine fracture was 12.8 per cent (E) versus 7.4 per cent (NE) (P = 0.002). Age was an independent predictor of fracture (P = 0.01). NC had a sensitivity of 65.9 per cent in E and PPV of 19.3 per cent in E (P = 0.001) versus a sensitivity of 84.2 per cent in NE and PPV of 10.6 per cent (P < 0.0001). The specificity was 59.5 per cent for E versus 42.6 per cent for NE (NPV, 92.2% E vs 97.1% NE). This study suggests that NEXUS criteria are not an appropriate assessment tool when applied to severe blunt trauma patients, particularly in the elderly population who had more missed injures than their younger counterparts. CT should be used in all blunt trauma patients regardless of whether they meet NEXUS criteria.

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