What are the pulmonary complications relative to spinal cord injury (SCI)?

Updated: Nov 01, 2018
  • Author: Lawrence S Chin, MD, FACS, FAANS; Chief Editor: Brian H Kopell, MD  more...
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Patients with spinal cord injury are at high risk for aspiration. Nasogastric decompression of the stomach is mandatory.

Pulmonary complications in spinal cord injury are common. Such complications are directly correlated with mortality, and both are related to the level of neurologic injury. Pulmonary complications of spinal cord injury include the following:

  • Atelectasis secondary to decreased vital capacity and decreased functional residual capacity

  • Ventilation-perfusion (V/Q) mismatch due to sympathectomy and/or adrenergic blockade

  • Increased work of breathing because of decreased compliance

  • Decreased coughing, which increases the risk of retained secretions, atelectasis, and pneumonia

  • Muscle fatigue

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