Complex Spine Surgery - Will You Get an Infection?

Relationship between Spinal Infection and Instrumented Spine Surgery

About.com—August 31, 2012

Many spine surgeries involve the implantation of items, called hardware, into the spine. Hardware can be anything from a prosthetic disc to replace your own worn out or damaged disc, to cages, pins or screws that provide stabilization to the spinal column or help it to fuse.

Increased use of hardware in spinal surgery can mean increased risk for complications. One such risk is post operative infection.

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What is the Spinal Infection Rate after Instrumented Surgery?

In their study, "Infections in spinal instrumentation" published in the February 2012 issue of International Orthopedics, researchers from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York report the incidence of infection following a back surgery where hardware was placed in the spine as being between 0.7% to 11.9%.

But Dr. Andrew Sama, orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York estimates the incidence of post operative spinal infection to be lower than the range reported by the Lenox Hill investigators. "Post operative infections occur in approximately 2.5% of all instrumented spine operations," he tells me.

What is it About Complex Spine Surgery that Puts You At Risk?

A 2011 study published in Spine Journal found higher levels of inflammatory markers commonly used to diagnose post operative wound infections in those patients undergoing complex spinal surgery. The study compared patients who had complex spine surgery with those who had simple back surgery to see if there was an association between surgical site contamination (with bacteria) and the subsequent development of a spinal infection.

"Complex spine surgery, particularly when long operating times and significant amounts of blood loss are involved, raises the risk of spinal infection," Dr. Sama tells me.

The costs of diagnosing, treating and managing post operative spinal infections is enormous - to all parties involved. And the skyrocketed costs are but one of a number of reasons doctors and hospitals take the condition very seriously. That they do so is, of course, in your best interest. As Dr. Sama explains, "The key to a successful outcome in a case of post operative spinal infection is a high index of suspicion and aggressive management."

Read the full story at about.com.

Learn more about preventing infections.

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