Visual loss as a complication of spine surgery. A review of 37 cases

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1997 Jun 15;22(12):1325-9. doi: 10.1097/00007632-199706150-00009.


Study design: Thirty-seven patients who experienced visual loss after spine surgery were identified through a survey of the members of the Scoliosis Research Society and a review of the recent literature.

Objectives: Records were reviewed in an attempt to identify preoperative and intraoperative risk factors and to assess the likelihood of recovery.

Summary of background data: Postoperative blindness after spine surgery has been documented in case reports or small series. The authors report the largest group of such cases to date and the first to allow conclusions regarding risk and prognosis.

Methods: Letters were sent to members of the Scoliosis Research Society requesting copies of medical records concerning patients who experienced postoperative visual deficits after spine surgery. An additional 10 well-documented recent cases were identified from published reports.

Results: Patients with visual loss had a mean age of 46.5 years. Surgery included instrumented posterior fusion in 92% of the cases, with an average operative time of 410 minutes and blood loss of 3500 mL. Most cases had significant intraoperative hypotension, with a mean drop in systolic blood pressure from 130 to 77 mm Hg. However, comparison with a matched group of patients with no visual symptoms showed no differences in the hematocrit or blood pressure values. Visual loss occurred because of ischemic optic neuropathy, retinal artery occlusion, or cerebral ischemia. Eleven cases were bilateral, and 15 patients had complete blindness in at least one eye. Most deficits were permanent.

Conclusions: The authors conclude that blindness after spine surgery is more common than has been recognized previously. Most cases are associated with complex instrumented fusions.

MeSH terms

  • Blindness / epidemiology
  • Blindness / etiology*
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypotension / epidemiology
  • Intraoperative Complications / epidemiology
  • Matched-Pair Analysis
  • Middle Aged
  • Optic Neuropathy, Ischemic / epidemiology
  • Optic Neuropathy, Ischemic / etiology
  • Postoperative Complications / epidemiology*
  • Prognosis
  • Retinal Artery Occlusion / epidemiology
  • Retinal Artery Occlusion / etiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Spinal Fusion
  • Spine / surgery*