Blindness Risk After Spinal Fusion Drops Significantly

Category: Spine Surgery | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: July 14, 2016

blindness after spine fusion

As is the case with any spinal operation, there’s always the chance of risks or complications. If you are unfortunate enough to deal with complications after spine surgery, hopefully it’s just a mild complication that can be addressed by your surgical team. However, some people suffer very extreme complications, like blindness. Thankfully, research shows that the risk of blindness after spinal fusion surgery has plummeted over the last few decades.

Blindness after Fusion Surgery

According to experts at the University of Illinois at Chicago, patients undergoing spinal fusion are nearly three times less likely to lose their sight following the procedure than they were 20 years prior. Researchers suggest the drop in blindness after spinal fusion surgery is due to a number of factors:

  • Changes in how anesthesia is used during the operation
  • An increase in minimally invasive surgeries
  • Improvement in how the fusion itself is performed

“The characteristics of the patients undergoing spine fusion haven’t changed all that much over the years, although the population has aged,” said Dr. Steven Roth, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s College of Medicine. “So the variables that must be contributing to the decline in blindness caused by spine fusion surgery are most likely the result of changes made in how the surgery is performed.

Spinal Fusion Study

For the study, researchers analyzed surgical outcomes for spinal fusion procedures performed between 1998 and 2012 as part of the Nationwide Inpatient Sample. Of the 2,511,073 patients who underwent spinal fusion during the 14-year span, 257 patients developed what’s known as ischemic optic neuropathy, a condition that causes blindness. That’s equivalent to 1.02 cases per 10,000 spinal fusion surgeries, but researchers noted that the risk of losing one’s sight dropped 60 percent over that 14-year span.

“White there are significant complications that can result from spinal fusion surgery, it seems that blindness, a catastrophic and devastating complication, is one that has become far rarer in recent years,” said Roth.

Researchers did note that factors that slightly increased a patient’s likelihood of going blind after spinal fusion include advanced age, obesity, undergoing a blood transfusion and being male, but they again stated that the overall risk of going blind after spinal fusion surgery is extremely low.

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