BACKGROUND: The external branch of the superior laryngeal nerve (EBSLN) is at risk during thyroid surgery. Despite meticulous dissection and visualization, the EBSLN can be mistaken for other structures. The nerve integrity monitor (NIM) allows EBSLN confirmation with cricothyroid twitch on stimulation.
AIMS: The aim of this study was to assess any difference in identification of EBSLN and its anatomical sub-types by dissection alone compared to NIM-aided dissection.
METHODS: Routine intra-operative nerve monitoring (IONM) was used, when available, for 228 consecutive thyroid operations (129 total thyroidectomies, 99 hemi-thyroidectomies) over a 10-month period. EBSLN identification by dissection alone (with NIM confirmation of cricothyroid twitch) and by NIM-assisted dissection was recorded prospectively. Anatomical sub-types were defined by the Cernea classification.
RESULTS: Of 357 nerves at risk, 97.2 % EBSLNs (95 % confidence interval [CI], 95.5-98.9) were identified by visualization and NIM-aided dissection compared to 85.7 % (95 % CI, 82.1-89.3) identified by dissection alone (<0.001). EBSLN frequency was 34 % for type 1, 55 % for type 2a, and 11 % for type 2b. All identified EBSLNs were stimulated to confirm a cricothyroid twitch after superior thyroid vessel ligation.
CONCLUSION: Using the NIM and meticulous dissection of the upper thyroid pole improves EBSLN identification. As the EBSLN is at risk during thyroidectomy and can lead to voice morbidity, the NIM can aid identification of the EBSLN and provide a functional assessment of the EBSLN after thyroid resection.
2015. Vol. 22, no 6