While all surgery comes with risks, not all recipients are equally susceptible. New research analyzed what factors increased spine surgery risks in a population of veterans with spinal stenosis. The researchers specifically focused on serious complications, like heart attack, sepsis, pneumonia and stroke. While only 2% of the study’s 12,000 participants experienced such complications, trends showed that some were more at risk than others.
The following factors were found to increase the risk of serious complications with spinal fusion surgery:
Age: Researchers found that people over the age of 80 were 4 times more likely to experience serious complications (4%, compared to 1% of those under 50).
Medication Use: Insulin and long-term steroid use were associated with greater incidence of major complications.
Low Function: If you’re deemed to be low-functioning before your surgery, your risk of serious complications is greater.
ASA Classification over 3: The American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) use a 1-6 physical status scale to classify the health of patients. Status 4 indicates a patient with a disease that is a threat to life, such as advanced heart disease. A status of 4 is associated with 3 times the risk of major complications during spinal stenosis surgery than statuses 1 or 2.
Spinal Fusion: While the most popular form of spinal surgery, fusion is also associated with a nearly 3 times greater risk of major complication than less extensive spinal stenosis operations like laminectomy.
See more on the study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Spinal stenosis is a very painful condition that requires treatment. The above information can be used to help patients decide what route is best for them. For instance, an 85-year-old who’s been using steroids for a chronic lung condition may decide that surgery is not worth the risks. Another may decide that spinal fusion is not worth the risks and opt for a less extensive form of spinal decompression surgery. It is worth noting that, in one study, laminectomy had a 75% long-term patient satisfaction rate (see www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov); across the research, fusion usually clocks in between 50-65%.
Knowing your risks is part of knowing your options. Before opting for surgery, make sure you have tried all conservative methods possible. Get a second opinion; see a doctor of osteopathy for a more holistic perspective; try any alternative treatment you can afford or can have covered by insurance. There are usually options that patients haven’t tried before they go under the knife. Given the risks, make sure you’ve exhausted all other options for spinal stenosis treatment before choosing surgery.