Objectives: To examine the frequency of common secondary medical complications during acute rehabilitation in persons with new spinal cord injury (SCI).
Design: Survey and analysis of data in the National SCI Statistical Center (NSCISC) database.
Setting: Eighteen Model System SCI Centers located in urban, public medical centers around the United States.
Subjects: A total of 1,649 persons with new SCI entered into the NSCISC database between 1996 and mid-1998.
Results: Since 1992, the number of days from injury to admission to rehabilitation has steadily decreased, resulting in the increased potential to develop common secondary medical complications during rehabilitation hospitalization. Pressure ulcers occur with high frequency and were found to have developed in 23.7% of patients during rehabilitation. In addition, autonomic dysreflexia and atelectasis/pneumonia also occur with relative frequency during rehabilitation. Conversely, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism have decreased, most likely because of greater awareness of their potential to develop, as well as improved methods of prophylaxis. Cardiopulmonary arrest and gastrointestinal hemorrhage occur with relatively small frequency. The frequency of renal complications is difficult to gauge because of the decreasing number of patients who have any renal testing performed during rehabilitation hospitalization.
Conclusion: The continued declining lengths of acute care hospitalization after SCI have resulted in the occurrence in the rehabilitation setting of medical complications that were previously seen in acute care. Greater awareness and attention to these conditions are necessary to reduce their occurrence, so that obstacles to recovery and functional improvement after SCI are minimized.