Why are respiratory infections so common in spinal cord injury (SCI) patients? We’ve mentioned the prevalence before, but want to share some data we recently found.
According to the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, respiratory infections such as pneumonia, are the leading cause of death in SCI patients. Compare this to heart disease, cancer and stroke which are the main causes of death in the general population.
SCI affect the respiratory system the muscles that are needed to pull air in and push it out of the lungs are often affected by a spine injury. Without the intercostal muscles working properly, the patient is unable to effectively cough up mucus which leads to an excess in the lungs that makes it harder to breath.
There are ways to make sure the lungs are kept clear such as with the use of suction or “quad coughing”, a process that involves a caregiver pushing down on the chest to force the air and mucus out. In addition, receiving a pneumonia vaccine called Penumovax prevents some forms. As SCI patients have such a high risk for these types of infections, it’s best to be prepared with as much prevention knowledge as is available!