Morbidity & Mortality

Overall, 85% of SCI patients who survive the first 24 hours are still alive 10 years later.

The most common cause of death is due to diseases of the respiratory system, with most of these being due to pneumonia. In fact, pneumonia is the single leading cause of death throughout the entire 15 year period immediately following SCI for all age groups, both males and females, whites and non-whites, and persons with quadriplegia.

The second leading cause of death is non-ischemic heart disease. These are almost always unexplained heart attacks often occurring among young persons who have no previous history of underlying heart disease.

Deaths due to external causes is the third leading cause of death for SCI patients. These include subsequent unintentional injuries, suicides and homicides, but do not include persons dying from multiple injuries sustained during the original accident. The majority of these deaths are the result of suicide.

The fourth leading cause of death is infective and parasitic diseases (usually septicemia associated with decubitus ulcers, urinary tract or respiratory infections) followed by circulatory diseases, ill-defined conditions, hypertensive and ischemic heart disease, diseases of the digestive system, neoplasms and cerebrovascular disease and cancer.

An increasing number of people with SCI are dying of unrelated causes such as cancer or cardiovascular disease, similar to that of the general population. Mortality rates are significantly higher during the first year after injury than during subsequent years.

Life expectancy for persons with SCI continues to increase, but is still somewhat below normal:

Current Age
Normal
(Ventilator Dependent at Any Level
High Tetra (C1 – C4)
Low Tetra (C5 – C8)
Para
Motor Functional at Any Level

20
56.3
19.9
32.8
38.6
44.8
49.0

30
46.9
15.9
26.8
30.7
36.7
40.5

40
37.6
12.4
20.9
23.6
28.8
31.7

50
28.6
9.3
15.5
17.0
21.2
23.4

60
20.5
6.6
11.0
11.2
13.8
15.9

Age at Injury
Normal
Paraplegia
Quadriplegia (Partial)
Quadriplegia (Total)

20 Years
56.0
32.7
30.5
22.1

40 Years
37.2
17.4
15.7
10.3

60 Years
20.4
6.1
4.8
2.3