October 31, 2016 | 6:00 am | By Pants Up Easy
A spinal cord injury is devastating. Living with paralysis is a major change to one’s lifestyle. If it weren’t already bad enough dealing with the loss of mobility and independence, life in a wheelchair can also result in a number of additional complications, known as secondary conditions. Here are some of those unexpected health problems which you will want to watch out for.
A pressure sore is a wound to the skin, and sometimes to tissue below skin level, caused by constant pressure to that area. It’s an extremely common health problem for people with paralysis, due to remaining in the same position for long periods of time, either in a wheelchair or in bed. This becomes even more of an issue for someone who has lost sensation in that part of the body, as they won’t necessarily notice when the sores begin to develop. Pressure sores are no joking matter. In the earliest stages, they may be little more than a skin irritation. But more advanced pressure sores may result in ulcers deep below the skin, causing damage to muscle, tendon, and bone tissue. At this point, the patient is also at risk of a serious infection. Pressure sores are easier to prevent than they are to cure, so people in wheelchairs are advised to change position frequently, conduct regular inspections of their skin (with the help of a caregiver, if necessary), and to look into pressure-release wheelchairs, which mitigate some of the risk of getting the sores in the first place.
While no two spinal cord injuries are the same, paralysis, in most cases, affects bladder control. The nerves that control these organs are connected to the spine at a very low level. Therefore signals from the brain can’t get through, resulting in a loss of bladder control. Depending upon the location of the injury, it may result in spastic bladder, in which a reflex triggers the bladder to empty automatically, or flaccid bladder, in which the reflexes don’t work properly, and the bladder doesn’t fully empty. These conditions are often treated with the use of a catheter. Failing to fully empty the bladder can lead to another secondary health problem, a urinary tract infection, and the catheter itself my introduce some of the offending bacteria.
The digestive tract, like all of the body’s systems, is controlled by nerves that connect it to the brain by way of the spinal cord. Injuries to the spinal cord will disrupt proper operation of the digestive system. The severity and location of the injury will determine the form that will take. Injuries located higher up on the spinal cord may result in the anal sphincter remaining tight, causing stool retention and constipation. Lower injuries may cause flaccid bowel, preventing proper waste elimination. “Accidents” are always a risk. Though there are different therapies available, a colostomy, though not usually thought of as an attractive option, will often provide the greatest improvement to quality of life.