Out of nearly 500,000 spinal fusion surgeries performed each year in the United States, very few result in serious or life-changing complications. A new study suggests one of those potentially serious complications associated with fusion surgery, the risk of blindness, has significantly decreased since the late 1990s.
Measuring Long-Term Trends
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago looked at data available from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample for a 14-year period from 1998 to 2012. After looking at diagnostic codes that would indicate any post-surgery complications, it was discovered that instances of blindness had decreased approximately 60 percent over that period.
Risk Factors for Fusion Surgery Blindness
The study looked at data from nearly 3 million procedures and noted 257 instances of optic nerve damage. Since prior studies were much smaller, this new data is significant since it paints a clearer picture for doctors and patients. Researchers discovered several contributing factors that tend to be related to instances of blindness linked to fusion surgery, including:
- Being 50 years of age or older
- Being male
- Having a blood transfusion during surgery
- Excessive weight and other health issues
Reasons for the Decline
The shift towards minimally invasive surgical procedures is one of the main reasons for the sharp decrease, according to UIC researchers. More surgeons are opting to use smaller incisions to insert surgical instrumentation and required fusion-related hardware, which reduces the trauma to surrounding muscles and tissues and decreases the risk of injury to nerves. Improvements in how anesthesia is administered and monitored were also cited as a reason for the significant decline.
Helping Patients Make More Informed Decisions
Statistics like this could help patients and their doctors when fusion surgery becomes one of the only options for pain relief. Barring a medical emergency, fusion surgery is a last resort and only considered if other treatments are ineffective.
Susceptibility to complications depends on several factors, including overall health and whether or not underlying conditions such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are involved. Due to advances in technologies, fusion procedures today are often less invasive and safer for the majority of patients.
When conservative treatments fail to provide adequate relief, it is time to seek additional options. Turn to The Spine Institute Center and our team of experienced spine surgeons in Los Angeles who can diagnose the cause of your pain and help you understand all possible treatment options. Schedule a consultation today by calling (310) 828-7757. We’re here to help.