Spinal cord injuries are very serious given, just like the brain, it cannot regrow new cells in order to recover. This means that victims of spinal cord injuries are often left to deal with lifelong disabilities, including paralysis from the neck down or paralysis from the waist down.
A recent estimate showed that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury is approximately 54 cases per one million people in the U.S., or about 17,730 new cases each year. And according to data quoted by Statista, the leading cause of spinal cord injuries in the U.S. between 2015 and 2019 were vehicular accidents at 38.6%. The following most common causes of spinal cord injuries are falls (22%), violence (16%) and sports injuries (12%). Moreover, alcohol intoxication plays a role in 25% of all spinal cord injuries.
Spinal cord injuries can be caused by damage to any part of a person’s spinal cord or the nerves at the end of the spinal canal. These injuries are catastrophic and can easily cause permanent changes in strength, tactile sensation, and other crucial bodily functions.
Sometimes a spinal cord is severed completely or to the point that it completely cuts off all sensation to the nerves below that area of a victim’s body. Moreover, these types of injuries are particularly delicate because they can also affect other parts of the body.
Life expectancy depends on the severity of the injury, where on the spine the injury occurs, and age. According to data compiled by the Loyola University Health System and quoted by Science Daily, life expectancy after an injury ranges from 1.5 years for a ventilator-dependent patient older than 60, to 52.6 years for a 20-year-old patient with preserved motor function.
On the other hand, approximately 10 to 20% of patients who have sustained a spinal cord injury do not survive to reach acute hospitalization, whereas about 3% of patients die during acute hospitalization. The leading causes of death are pneumonia, pulmonary embolism, or septicemia, according to one study.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham created a life expectancy calculator for people with spinal cord injuries. It uses standard statistical procedures based on the annual age-specific probabilities of dying and the selected combination of risk factors.
Overall, 81% of patients who survive the first 24 hours are still alive 10 years later. Mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after injury than during subsequent years.
Unfortunately, life expectancy for spinal cord injuries has not improved during the past 30 years. According to the University of Washington, the average life expectancy after a spinal cord injury was only 18 months in 1940. By 1998, the estimated life expectancy showed greater resemblance to that of the general population. For those with complete tetraplegia (quadriplegia), life expectancy was 70% of the life expectancy of the general population. Those with complete paraplegia, it was 86%, and for anyone with significant motor preservation, it was about 92%.
As people with a spinal cord injury are living longer than 80 years ago, they are likely to experience many of the chronic health problems that arise in the general population with aging. According to a report published in the journal Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, spinal cord patients also are at higher risk for other medical conditions, including cardiovascular disease, pneumonia, life-threatening blood clots, bladder, bowel and sexual dysfunction, constipation and other gastrointestinal problems, pressure ulcers, and chronic pain.
80% of spinal cord injuries occur in males aged 15 to 35, and it costs between $320,000 and $985,000 to treat a spinal cord injury patient the first year. However, it can cost as much as $5 million during the patient's lifetime.