Thyroid| Volume 171, ISSUE 1, P165-171, January 2022

Intraoperative trans-laryngeal ultrasound (LUSG) of the vocal cord is a novel method of confirming the recurrent laryngeal nerve (RLN) integrity during thyroid and neck surgery



      Eliciting a normal electromyography signal has been the usual method to confirm the functional integrity of the recurrent laryngeal nerve during intraoperative nerve monitoring. Given that oscillations of the vocal cord can be detected with trans-laryngeal ultrasound when the ipsilateral recurrent laryngeal nerve is stimulated with the endotracheal tube in situ, we aimed to compare the accuracy and cost of this novel method with the conventional electromyography method.


      Consecutive patients who underwent elective thyroid, parathyroid or neck dissection procedures were included. The NIM-Neuro 3.0 system was used. Endotracheal tube-based surface electrodes were utilized for electromyography signal recording. Standard anesthetic technique was adopted. Recurrent laryngeal nerve integrity was verified by both detection methods (laryngeal ultrasound and electromyography) independently. Vocal cord function was validated by flexible direct laryngoscopy postoperatively. For each method, concurrence with flexible direct laryngoscopy was defined as “true-positive” or “true-negative,” based on the presence or absence of vocal cord paresis. Accuracy was calculated as the sum of all true positives and negatives divided by the total of nerves-at-risk. The cost of each method was calculated.


      One hundred and four patients were eligible. Total number of nerves-at-risk was 155. Based on flexible direct laryngoscopy findings, the test sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value of intraoperative laryngeal ultrasound were 75.0%, 99.3%, 85.7%, and 98.6%, respectively, while those of electromyography were 87.5%, 98.0%, 70.0%, and 99.3%, respectively. The prognostic accuracy in laryngeal ultrasound versus electromyography was comparable (98.1% vs 97.4%). The cost of the laryngeal ultrasound per operation was less than electromyography ($82 vs $454).


      Laryngeal ultrasound has a similar detection accuracy to electromyography during intraoperative nerve monitoring. Apart from being a cheaper alternative, laryngeal ultrasound may be useful when there is unexplained loss of electromyography signals during surgery and may play a role in the intraoperative nerve monitoring troubleshooting algorithm.
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