When living with a spinal cord injury (SCI), there are more challenges than just not being able to walk. There are other healthcare issues that are very important.
Here are a few of the secondary conditions mentioned by the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
- Autonomic Dysrefexia (AD) – AD can be a potentially life-threatening medical emergency if not treated quickly. AD occurs when the autonomic nervous system is overworked usually from pain, urinary tract infections, constipation and pressure sores. People with SCI, their family members and friends should recognize the symptoms like high blood pressure, headaches, increased spasms and sweating.
- Bladder Management – If the bladder can’t be emptied normally, a catheter is used to empty the bladder. Some people leave a catheter in all day and urine drains into a bag. Others will do intermittent catheterizations every few hours. I do intermittent caths and empty my bladder through a stoma—a surgical opening through my abdomen.
- Bowel Care – Similar to the bladder, it must be emptied regularly. Some people have a surgical procedure to reroute the bowels to empty in a colostomy bag. Other people use suppositories to help empty the bowels. I use the suppository method.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) – DVT is more common during acute hospitalizations, soon after acquiring a SCI. It is a blood clot that forms in the deep veins of the lower leg and thigh. It can be life threatening if the clot breaks away from the vein and travels to the lungs, causing a pulmonary embolism. Doctors can give blood thinners to prevent clotting.
- Skin Care – People with paralysis are at risk for developing skin problems. Since people do not have sensation or feeling below their injury level, it’s difficult to tell if they have any cuts, abrasions or pressure sores. I’ve had a number of pressure sores—one on my ankle that led to my left foot amputation. Make sure to protect the skin by doing pressure reliefs in the wheelchair or rotating from side to side in bed.
- Spasticity – Spasticity ranges from mild muscle stiffness to uncontrollable leg movements. Spasticity can be good and bad. Muscle stiffness can be good to help someone transfer from his or her wheelchair to the bed because it builds muscle tone. Spasms can be uncomfortable if they happen in the abdomen or back. Medicine is available to control the spasms.
With proper care and attention to these issues, people with SCI can still have an active and healthy lifestyle!