Life expectancy and factors contributing to mortality after spinal cord injuries are essential for patients to help them with lifetime care planning and the economic risk factors. Many longitudinal mortality studies have been conducted in the past in the United States and worldwide to help determine life expectancy, costs, and other vital indicators for patients suffering from spinal cord injuries.
Ehline Law and our personal injury attorneys have worked with many spinal cord patients and understand the challenges they face in their day-to-day life. We’ve compiled relevant studies and information to guide readers on the devastating impact of a traumatic spinal cord injury to help spread awareness.
Life Expectancy Estimates after Spinal Cord Injury: A 50-year Study
A study titled “Life expectancy after spinal cord injury: a 50-year study” carried out between 1955 and 2006 analyzed the patients at a specialized Spinal Cord Injury unit in Australia to determine life expectancy, survival rate, and acute and long-term mortality.
The study collected data pertaining to spinal cord injuries and deaths from the Spinal Cord Injury unit in Sydney between January 1955 and June 2006.
Life-table techniques used in the study helped assess the survival probability. In contrast, the study used the number of patients who died from spinal cord injury and the total years of exposure to the injury to determine mortality rates.
To calculate standardized mortality rates, the study used observed and expected deaths from spinal cord injuries, and adjusted attained age-specific mortality rates helped estimate life expectancy.
The study identified 3372 patients with spinal cord injuries, but after excluding patients who did not fit the sample requirement, only 2014 patients remained, of which 1076 patients had tetraplegia, and 938 had paraplegia. 82% of the patients were male, and the median age was approximately 28.3 years.
53% of spinal cord injuries were due to motor vehicle accidents, while slip and fall made up about 19%, and sporting injuries contributed 18%. 53% of those who suffered spinal cord injuries from motor vehicle crashes had tetraplegia, and the acute death rates among the patients with C1–4 Asia Impairment Scale reduced over the years.
There were other demographic changes in the patients studied over the 50 years. 12% of the sample population were patients 65 and older with newer injuries.
The study’s findings revealed that 8.2% of the 1076 patients with tetraplegia and 4.1% of the patients with 938 patients with paraplegia died within the first 12 months of their spinal cord injury. Those categorized as the high tetraplegia (C1–4) subgroup had the highest death rate among the sample population.
According to the findings, there was a reduction in the acute death rates among patients with tetraplegia and American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale (AIS) A lesions and an increase in the mortality rate during the second post-injury year.
The following are the increase in mortality rates during the second post-injury year across different categories of spinal cord injury:
- Tetraplegia (2.3% overall)
- C1–8 AIS A lesions (3.7%)
- C1–8 AIS B/C lesions (2.1%)
- C1–8 AIS D (0.9%)
- All paraplegia (0.9%.)
The survival rate for first-year survivors at 40 years post-injury for patients suffering from tetraplegia was 47%, and for those suffering from paraplegia was 62%.
The factors that affected the survival rates were neurological levels and injury severity. For example, the chances of survival for patients with paraplegia beyond 40 years was just above 60% compared to patients in the C1-C4 ABC category who only had a survival rate of 55% 30 years into their injuries.
Analyzing the standardized mortality ratios, the study found an overall increase in mortality rates in people with spinal cord injuries. However, the rise in mortality rates was much more significant in people with tetraplegia.
What’s surprising is that the study reveals a reduction in standardized mortality ratios as the patients reached an advancing age. The leading cause of death in people with spinal cord injuries across all ages was cancer, ischemic heart disease, pneumonia, and influenza.
Life Expectancy for Post-one-year Spinal Cord Injury Survivors 2021
Let’s look at the life expectancy for spinal cord injuries in the U.S. by severity and age for people who survived their post-one-year injury.
Motor Function at Any level AIS D
The life expectancy of people suffering from motor function at any level AIS D who survives one year of injury according to different ages is as follows:
- 20 years of age: 52.5 years
- 40 years of age: 35.2 years
- 60 years of age: 19.5 years.
Paraplegia AIS ABC
The life expectancy of people suffering from paraplegia AIS ABC who survives one year of injury according to different ages is as follows:
- 20 years of age: 45.3 years
- 40 years of age: 30 years
- 60 years of age: 16.4 years.
The life expectancy of people suffering from low tetraplegia according to different ages is as follows:
- 20 years of age: 40.1 years
- 40 years of age: 25.5 years
- 60 years of age: 13.7 years.
The life expectancy of people suffering from high tetraplegia who survives one year of injury according to different ages is as follows:
- 20 years of age: 33.7 years
- 40 years of age: 21.6 years
- 60 years of age: 12.2 years,
Ventilator Dependent Persons
The life expectancy of people dependent on a ventilator who survives one year of injury for survival according to different ages is as follows:
- 20 years of age: 17.6 years
- 40 years of age: 13.2 years
- 60 years of age: 7.9 years.
Long-Term Survival After Childhood Spinal Cord Injury
A study published in The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine in 2007 titled “Long-Term Survival After Childhood Spinal Cord Injury” studied 25,340 people admitted to the National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center database over the 1973–2004 study period.
The study’s findings revealed that the people who suffered spinal cord injury when they were 16 years or younger had a 31% increase in the odds of dying compared to those who sustained injuries at an older age. This is because they live much longer with their injuries leading to spinal cord injury complications such as urinary tract infections or pressure ulcers, affecting their mortality.
The study concluded that there was little to no variation in the increased risk of dying when analyzed according to age, sex, race, health status, or the year they sustained the injury.
Online Life Expectancy Calculator to Help in Estimating Life Expectancies in General Population
Although many risk factors affect the life expectancy following spinal cord injury, there is an online life expectancy calculator that takes into consideration the person’s age, injury date, sex, ethnicity, education, type of insurance, and history of ventilator use to estimate their life expectancy.
The general population needs to understand that an online calculator cannot accurately estimate life expectancy by simply using a few critical pieces of information. Clinical outcomes from such systems and other model systems also vary from one person to another, which is why it is crucial to work with medical professionals to have a better quality of life.
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If you’ve suffered a spinal cord injury due to another’s negligence or recklessness, contact us at (833) LETS-SUE for a free consultation, as you may be able to seek compensation.
- Evaluating neurological group homogeneity in assessing the mortality risk for people with spinal cord injuries. Spinal Cord. 1998; 36 :275–279. [ PubMed ] [ Google Scholar ]