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Spinal Cord Injuries Affect More Than Loss of Mobility

Some people don’t understand that when the spinal cord gets injured, it is more than just a patient’s mobility that is at stake. Spinal injuries affect almost every part of the body as well.

Living with a spinal injury means dealing with complications that can cause bowel and bladder problems. Sexual dysfunction is also common, as is spasticity, autonomic dysfunction, and chronic pain. Those with injuries to the cervical spine can also suffer from cardiac and respiratory problems.

As a general rule, the higher up the injury is, the more severe the disability will be. Those with injuries between C1 and C4 will require respiratory support, as there may be damage to the phrenic nerves controlling the diaphragm that expands the lungs. These patients are at particular risk of pneumonia because they cannot cough or clear mucus from their throat or lungs. Even the act of swallowing can be challenging to some.

These respiratory complications are a primary cause of death in those with spinal cord injuries. Because intubation raises the risk of acquiring pneumonia, patients who are intubated must be monitored very carefully. Should symptoms of pneumonia present, prompt treatment with antibiotics. Clearing the mouth and throat of secretions to prevent aspiration is vital when combating the risk of pneumonia.

Maintaining proper circulation is important to prevent dangerous arrhythmias from developing. When the injury involves the control of cardiac nerves, patients’ hearts can race or become dangerously slow. It’s vital to closely monitor blood pressure changes and watch out for blood pooling in limbs or body parts.

All of this monitoring requires skill and expertise that family caregivers often do not possess. It can be very expensive to care for a spinal cord injury patient at home or in an in-patient setting. Any settlement or judgment should be sufficient to cover these needs.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Spinal Cord Injury: Hope Through Research,” accessed June 10, 2016
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