Objectives: To study mortality, cause of death and risk indicators for death in Norwegian patients with spinal cord injury.
Design: A cross-sectional study with retrospective data.
Subjects: All patients (n=387) with traumatic spinal cord injury admitted to Sunnaas Rehabilitation Hospital, Norway, during the period 1961-82.
Methods: Medical records were reviewed retrospectively. Causes of death were collected from Statistics Norway and death certificates. Standardized mortality ratios (SMRs) were calculated for the entire sample and for causes of death. To explore risk indicators for death, a Cox regression model was used.
Results: During the observation period, 1961-2002, 142 patients died. The main causes of death were pneumonia/influenza (16%), ischaemic heart diseases (13%) and urogenital diseases (13%). SMR was 1.8 for men and 4.9 for women. Cause-specific SMRs were markedly elevated for urogenital diseases, suicide, pneumonia/influenza, urogenital cancer, and diseases of the digestive system. Risk indicators for death were: higher age at injury, tetraplegia, functionally complete spinal cord injury, pre-injury cardiovascular disease, alcohol or substance abuse and psychiatric diagnosis.
Conclusion: The SMRs show that life expectancy is reduced in chronic spinal cord injury in Norway, more for women than for men. Cause-specific SMRs and risk indicators suggest that the high mortality rates after spinal cord injury to a certain degree are related to preventable aetiologies. To maximize longevity in chronic spinal cord injury, more attention must be paid to co-morbidity.