Early Cardiac Pacemaker Placement for Life-Threatening Bradycardia in Traumatic Spinal- Cord Injury

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Journal of Trauma




Background: High cervical spinal cord injury (CSCI) can cause life-threatening bradycardia from autonomic instability that may be resistant to pharmacologic interventions. Placement of a cardiac pacemaker, traditionally reserved for patients refractory to drug therapy, may be lifesaving.

Methods: Our Level I trauma center registry found all patients with CSCI from 2003 to 2009. A retrospective chart review identified major events involving the circulatory system: those exhibiting bradycardia (minor, heart rate 40-60/min; major, heart rate <40/min), hypotension (systolic blood pressure

Results: Of the 106 patients with CSCI, 15 (14%) had bradycardia and 7 of those (47%) underwent cardiac pacemaker placement. Six of seven patients had reviewable data. A total of 35 events occurred in these six patients before pacemaker placement. Subsequent to placement, there were zero events of cardiovascular instability (p = 0.0135). Major bradycardic episodes were reduced from 9 to 0 (p = 0.0206) and incidents requiring atropine administration from 9 to 0 (p = 0.0197). Four survived; two patients died from pulmonary complications. There were no complications related to pacemaker insertion.

Conclusions: Patients with CSCI life-threatening complications of bradycardia benefit from early placement of a cardiac pacemaker. Early stabilization may facilitate transfer out of the intensive care unit, mobilization, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and outcome.