Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

When I had my neck fused, I developed a problem called dysphagia. I couldn't swallow anything that wasn't blended first and even then some things just wouldn't go down. I thought this was a major problem but the surgeon didn't blink an eye. Shouldn't they take this stuff more seriously than they do?

Answer:

Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) is not uncommon after anterior cervical spine fusion. In the process of cutting through skin and soft tissue around the throat, damage can be done to some of the nerves in that area. The nerves are tiny and not always visible. Your surgeon may not have communicated his or her knowledge and understanding of dysphagia as a postoperative complication in a way that would have made a better connection with you as the patient. Experience has shown that most of these problems are temporary. The nerve tissue regenerates and the function returns. Greater efforts are being made to study minor and major complications after spinal surgery. A more recent study published a comparison between what surgeons think are problems and how patients view those problems. They found exactly what you described -- some things like blood loss during the operation or difficulty swallowing after the procedure were considered minor by the surgeon. Patients tend to see these things as much more major. There was general agreement between surgeons and patients for events like a heart attack or blood clot. These were viewed by both groups as major events. But there were also some complications that surgeons viewed as more dangerous than patients -- like infections. Even a superficial wound infection was viewed as an adverse event by the surgeon. Infections of the urinary tract, deep wound, or arterial line were more likely to be seen by the surgeon than the patient as a major complication. The bottom line is that your surgeon may not be clear in saying so, but he or she knows what to watch out for, what's serious and what's not, what constitutes a minor versus a major event after surgery, and what you will or won't recover (or recover easily) from. John K. Ratliff, MD et al. Complications in Spinal Surgery: Comparative Survey of Spine Surgeons and Patients Who Underwent Spinal Surgery. In Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine. Vol. 10. No. 6. Pp. 578-584.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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