OBJECT Anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) is an effective procedure for the treatment of cervical radiculopathy and/or myelopathy; however, postoperative dysphagia is a significant concern. Dexamethasone, although potentially protective against perioperative dysphagia and airway compromise, could inhibit fusion, a generally proinflammatory process. The authors conducted a prospective, randomized, double-blinded, controlled study of the effects of steroids on swallowing, the airway, and arthrodesis related to multilevel anterior cervical reconstruction in patients who were undergoing ACDF at Albany Medical Center between 2008 and 2012. The objective of this study was to determine if perioperative steroid use improves perioperative dysphagia and airway edema. METHODS A total of 112 patients were enrolled and randomly assigned to receive saline or dexamethasone. Data gathered included demographics, functional status (including modified Japanese Orthopaedic Association myelopathy score, neck disability index, 12-Item Short-Form Health Survey score, and patient-reported visual analog scale score of axial and radiating pain), functional outcome swallowing scale score, interval postoperative imaging, fusion status, and complications/reoperations. Follow-up was performed at 1, 3, 6, 12, and 24 months, and CT was performed 6, 12, and 24 months after surgery for fusion assessment. RESULTS Baseline demographics were not significantly different between the 2 groups, indicating adequate randomization. In terms of patient-reported functional and pain-related outcomes, there were no differences in the steroid and placebo groups. However, the severity of dysphagia in the postoperative period up to 1 month proved to be significantly lower in the steroid group than in the placebo group (p = 0.027). Furthermore, airway difficulty and a need for intubation trended toward significance in the placebo group (p = 0.057). Last, fusion rates at 6 months proved to be significantly lower in the steroid group but lost significance at 12 months (p = 0.048 and 0.57, respectively). CONCLUSIONS Dexamethasone administered perioperatively significantly improved swallowing function and airway edema and shortened length of stay. It did not affect pain, functional outcomes, or long-term swallowing status. However, it significantly delayed fusion, but the long-term fusion rates remained unaffected. Clinical trial registration no.: NCT01065961 (clinicaltrials.gov).

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