Spinal Cord Injuries: Respiratory Issues

When the spinal cord is injured, various parts of the body are affected. One likely problem that arises from a spinal cord injury is respiratory difficulties. These effects are long-term and can even lead to pneumonia.

Patient with oxygen maskUnderstanding the Respiratory System

Simply stated, it is the job of the respiratory system to provide the body with oxygen.  The organs in the respiratory system take in oxygen and dispel carbon dioxide. The blood moves through the lungs to become oxygenated. Then, as it travels throughout the rest of the body, the blood takes on carbon dioxide. It passes back through the lungs to receive more oxygen. If the respiratory system does not work properly, the body does not get its needed oxygen.

Why Would Respiratory Issues Result From a Spinal Cord Injury?

When spinal damage occurs, the brain may lose the ability to communicate with certain muscle groups. The muscles inside your chest and abdomen are what aid with breathing and even coughing. Although the lungs themselves are not affected by the spinal cord injury, it takes the chest and abdominal muscles to help them perform the function of taking in oxygen.

What Are the Respiratory Issues From a Spinal Cord Injury?

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke states that respiratory problems are the leading cause of fatality for those who are paralyzed. Those who are paralyzed are quite likely to contract pneumonia. This is because coughing becomes difficult. When a person is unable to forcefully cough, he is unable to expel any mucus from the lungs. This leads to congestion and infection in the lungs.

If the C3 vertebra or those higher are damaged, the brain can no longer communicate with the diaphragm to move. Thus, a ventilator is needed to assist with breathing. If the damage is from C3-C5, the brain can still connect with the diaphragm and tell it to move. However, the chest walls have trouble expanding to take in the necessary oxygen, making it difficult to breathe. Even those with damage at the thoracic level have problems taking in full or deep breaths.

What Are Some Tips on Maintaining Lung Health After Spinal Cord Injury?

The Christopher Reeves Foundation lists several tips and tricks for helping those who are paralyzed protect the health of their lungs. These are just a few of the helpful suggestions:

  • Drink water. It helps thin the mucus.
  • Avoid smoking. Smoke decreases the amount of oxygen in the blood and is destructive to the lungs.
  • Cough regularly. Use a machine or even have someone assist you in the process.
  • Use good posture. This allows the lungs to have a greater chance of expanding.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a spinal cord injury, you will need the maximum possible financial compensation to compensate you for your injuries and financial losses. Our law firm will be honored to help you obtain a fair financial recovery to compensate you for your damages. Please call us for a complimentary consultation at (703) 591-0067 or fill out a short form on our Contact Us page and we will connect with you soon.