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What're the symptoms of spinal cord injury?

Damage to the spinal cord interrupts the signals from the sensory and motor nerves, resulting in varying degrees of paralysis and loss of sensation. Symptoms depend upon the severity and location of the injury. A completely severed spinal cord causes paralysis and loss of sensation below the severed section. Patients with the cord partially severed

may have some function below the injury.

Damage to the front portion of the cord causes paralysis and loss of the ability to feel pain and changes in temperature. Damage to the center of the cord may paralyze the arms, but not the legs. Damage to the right or left half of the spinal cord causes paralysis on the side of the injury, loss of pain and temperature sensation on the opposite side of the injury, and loss of the ability to sense position. Injuries located in vertebrae C1 to C5 may cause paralysis of the muscles used for breathing and all arm and leg muscles. Theses types of injuries usually result in death. Damage above the T1 vertebra affects the arms and the legs. Injuries below the T1 vertebra affect the legs and trunk below the injury, but usually do not affect the arms and hands. Paralysis of the legs is called paraplegia. Paralysis of the arms and legs is called quadriplegia.

Complications of spinal cord injuries include deep vein thrombosis, in which lack of normal blood flow to the paralyzed area causes blood to pool in the deep veins and form clots; pressure ulcers of the skin from staying in one position for long periods of time; joint deformity caused by the constant contraction of the muscle (contracture); abnormal deposits of bone in muscles and tendons, called heterotopic ossification; and urinary infection and hardened stool in the large intestine and rectum (impaction) from the loss of bladder and bowel control.

Patients with paralysis are unable to sense when they might have an over-full bladder or bladder infection, constipation or impaction, or skin irritation. When this happens, the nerves respond by releasing high amounts of norepinephrine, which is a hormone similar to adrenaline. This causes the blood pressure to rise rapidly and the heart rate to slow. The signs of this condition, called autonomic dysreflexia, include throbbing headache, nausea, anxiety, sweating, and goose bumps below the level of the spinal injury. If untreated, it can result in unconsciousness, seizures, cerebral hemorrhage, and death. While men who are paralyzed below the waist area lose sexual function, women who are paralyzed may still be able to become pregnant and deliver vaginally with close medical supervision.

More information on spinal cord injury

What is spinal cord injury? - Spinal cord injury (SCI) is damage to the nerves within the spinal canal. Most SCI's are caused by trauma to the vertebral column.
What is the spinal cord? - The spinal cord is a part of the vertebrate nervous system that is enclosed in and protected by the vertebral column.
What causes spinal cord injury? - Spinal cord injury occurs from either a trauma (injury) or from a disease or infection to the neural tissue within the vertebral column.
What're the complications of spinal cord injury? - Aside from a loss of sensation and movement, patients with a spinal cord injury may also experience bladder and bowel complications.
What're the symptoms of spinal cord injury? - Symptoms of spinal cord injury depend upon the severity and location of the injury. Complications of injuries include deep vein thrombosis.
How is spinal cord injury diagnosed? - Diagnostic tests such as x-rays, computed tomography scans (CT scans), and magnetic resonance imaging scans of the spinal area can help diagnosis.
What's the treatment for spinal cord injury? - Rehabilitation after spinal cord injury seeks to prevent complications, promote recovery, and make the most of remaining function.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005