Causes of spinal cord injuries include motor vehicle accidents (44%), acts of violence (24%), falls (22%), sports (two-thirds of these are from diving accidents) (8%), and other (2%). Statistics differ somewhat in other countries - in Canada and western Europe, injuries due to violence are rare, while in developing countries, violence is even more common. Statistics show that the summer is the worst time for spinal cord injuries, with July having the highest incidence. They happen more frequently on weekends and at nights. Most people who get spinal cord injuries are male (82%) and the median age at the time of injury is 31.7 years. About 10,000 Americans suffer SCI every year. Approximately 250,000 Americans are living with some form of SCI.
Men make up at least eighty percent of all cases. Alcohol plays a big role in SCI, accounting for at least twenty five percent of cases. Preexisting spinal disease can cause some people to be more susceptible to getting SCI. These include:
- Atlantoaxial instability
- Cervical spondylosis
- Congenital conditions
- Spinal Arthropathies
There is a lot of exciting research being done on SCI therapies, including new medications, using the patient’s own white blood cells (macrophages), and transplantation of amniotic or embryonic cells into the injured area. While these treatments are not yet available for the treatment of SCI patients, the progress that is being made gives hope to those with SCI and their families. You may qualify to participate in research studies on experimental spinal cord injury treatments. Also, read about stem cell research into spinal cord injury treatments.
Life expectancy is lower for SCI patients. A lot of deaths happen in the first year as the body struggles to adjust. For people who get past the first year, life expectancy averages 90% that of the non-SCI patients. The most common causes of death are respiratory conditions, followed by cardiovascular illnesses. Injuries above the T6 level are often complicated by “autonomic dysreflexia” This condition usually appears within a year of the injury and causes many cardiovascular problems
High-up spinal code injuries end up causing respiratory problems. Impaired cough makes if difficult to remove lung secretions so patients are also at increased risk for pneumonia. Pulmonary embolism is a blockage of the main artery of the lung and blood clots in the veins are common. Neurogenic bladder means the SCI patient has trouble storing and discharging urine.
About 30% of spinal cord injuries are "incomplete" and the patient may have movement capabilities below the injury point. The most common type of incomplete SCI is central cord syndrome, Many people with this syndrome can walk with some competance.
Osteoporosis in SCI patients
Bones in the body are constantly in a process of renewal. The mineral content is being re-absorped into the bloodstream and new mineral is being deposited. When the mineral content and bone density declines over time, the person is diagnosed with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is common in SCI patients.
Although scientists aren’t sure why osteoporosis happens, sedentary behavior appears to contribute to the onset. SCI patients obviously do not move their paralyzed areas as much as other people. The nervous system may also play a part in osteoporosis.
SCI patients’ osteoporosis
develops differently from other patients’. The leg bones have rapid loss
of minerals while the spinal cord is less affected. Patients with quadriparesis
also lose in their arms.
Heterotopic ossification is the deposition of bone around peripheral joints.
This happens very frequently and is a cause of degraded quality of life
in SCI patients.