It's quite obvious that someone with a spinal cord injury would need treatment and rehabilitation due to loss of function. However, someone with an incomplete spinal cord injury does not have total paralysis. In fact, their symptoms can be so mild that they don't even realize they've had an incomplete spinal cord injury. This is just one reason why it is crucial to have a medical evaluation after a traumatic accident, such as a motor vehicle accident or a fall from tall heights.
If you are ever diagnosed with a spinal cord injury of any kind, you'll need to have your health monitored on an ongoing basis for the rest of your life. Here's what a spinal cord injury can lead to.
According to a study published by the National Library of Medicine, more than one quarter of patients with spinal cord injuries develop syringomyelia. This is a condition that occurs when a cyst-like pocket of cerebrospinal fluid develops in the spinal cord. An injury to the spinal cord can cause syringomyelia due to the disruption of the flow of the fluid due to lesions or scar tissue.
Symptoms of syringomyelia include the loss of muscular strength, numbness and tingling, and joint stiffness in the extremities. It can cause facial numbness and the inability for the body to regulate temperature. Syringomyelia can also cause bladder and bowel dysfunction. Many people with syringomyelia wear incontinence products.
If you experience any of these types of symptoms after a spinal cord injury, regardless of how long it's been since your injury, it's crucial to get evaluated for syringomyelia, which can be seen on an MRI of the spine. If syringomyelia is found, you will need to see a neurosurgeon for assessment. Treatment for syringomyelia includes both surgical and non-surgical intervention.
In addition to syringomyelia, a spinal cord injury, whether complete or incomplete, can interrupt the communication of the nerves that control the bladder and bowel. According to research, 80% of those with spinal cord injuries have some degree of bladder dysfunction, which can include incontinence, kidney and bladder stones, bladder cancer, and/or hydronephrosis (blockage or backwards flow to the kidney).
While incontinence is usually easy to identify when it occurs, stones, cancer, and hydronephrosis are not. Because of this, it is important to have periodic testing done to screen for problems in the urinary system. Tests of the urinary system includes serum creatinine levels in the blood and creatinine clearance in urine samples. If you wear incontinence products, your physician may need to temporarily place a catheter for urine sample collection. Ultrasounds, CT scans, and renal scans can also be used to visually identify any blockages or abnormalities.
According to Spinal Injury Network, another condition that can occur when someone has had a spinal cord injury is autonomic dysreflexia. This is a disruption in the body's autonomic nervous system, which controls things your body does without thinking, such as your heart beat, blood pressure, breathing, and temperature regulation. In a healthy person, blood pressure is controlled by the tightening and relaxing of the muscles around the blood vessels.
When there's a spinal cord injury, the signal to do these things can get disrupted, which can cause blood pressure to increase substantially. This disruption in signal can be caused by anything that causes discomfort or pain, such as a full bladder, a bladder infection, tight clothing, and pressure from an object. Symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia include sweating, restlessness, headache, nausea, slow pulse, nasal stuffiness, goose bumps, and blotchy skin.
Treatment for autonomic dysreflexia involves identifying and removing the stimulus that triggered the event. Due to bladder infections being a possible trigger for autonomic dysreflexia, incontinence products should be changed as soon as possible after soiling.