Most strokes involve injury to the brain. However, a stroke can also affect the other primary organ of the central nervous system, the spinal cord. A spinal cord stroke is a disruption of the blood supply to the spinal cord. Like a brain stroke, a spinal stroke can cause permanent injury to the nervous system.
Spinal stroke can have multiple causes but sometimes occurs without a clear cause. In other cases, it may be caused by a traumatic accident, or even medical negligence. The outcome of a spinal stroke is often permanent spinal cord damage, leaving the victim paralyzed.
If an injury or accident led to spinal cord stroke, the parties responsible for causing the accident should be held accountable for their actions. If a doctor negligently caused a spinal cord stroke, the injury victim may have a claim for medical malpractice. Contact your personal injury or medical malpractice attorney to understand your rights.
Spinal Stroke vs. Brain Stroke
A stroke is an interruption in the blood supply to the nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain and spinal cord, which are responsible for communicating messages between the brain and the peripheral nervous system. The brain and spinal cord require a steady supply of blood and oxygen. When the supply of oxygen is cut off or reduced, it can lead to tissue damage, depending on where the blockage occurs.
A stroke can involve an ischemic stroke or hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic strokes are more common. In an ischemic stroke, blood and oxygen are restricted by a narrowing of the arteries can be caused by a buildup of plaque (atheromatous stenosis), blood clot (thrombus), or other blockage (embolus). In a hemorrhagic stroke, the lack of blood is caused by bleeding. When a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, it causes swelling in the brain, leading to brain cell damage and possible death.
Most strokes occur in the brain. However, a small percentage of strokes occur in the spinal cord. Either type of stroke is associated with serious damage and the risk of permanent damage increases as time passes before the condition is treated or reversed.
In a spinal cord stroke, the lack of oxygenated blood due to blockage causes similar cell damage, swelling, pressure in the spinal cord, cell death, and spinal cord damage. Most spinal strokes are ischemic, caused by blood clots or other embolus. Hemorrhagic spinal strokes are caused by bleeding in and around the spinal cord.
A hemorrhagic spinal stroke can be caused by spinal cord trauma (such as a car accident or traumatic birth injury), or non-traumatic bleeding. Non-traumatic spinal bleeding can be caused by illness, disease, infection, medication, or degenerative conditions
Blood Clots and Spinal Stroke
The primary cause of ischemic spinal strokes is blood clots. A blood clot in the arteries leading to the spinal cord (or veins leading away from the spinal cord) is where most spinal strokes occur. There are 3 primary arteries that supply blood to the spinal cord, a single anterior spinal artery and two posterior spinal arteries.
Blood clots can be associated with a number of other health conditions and diseases. The greater the risk of blood clots, the higher the risk of a stroke. Medical conditions associated with blood clots include:
- Atherosclerosis (narrowing arteries due to a build-up of plaque in the passageways)
- Bed-bound patients
- Elevated fats in the blood
- Family history of heart disease
- Older age
A spinal blood clot occurs deep inside the body and can be difficult to diagnose. Symptoms of a spinal cord stroke come on quickly, and may include:
- Sharp or burning back pain
- Aching pain
- Sexual dysfunction
- Weakness in the legs
- Loss of sensation of pain and temperature
Traumatic Causes of a Spinal Stroke
Hemorrhagic strokes can occur when the blood vessels which supply oxygen to the spinal cord burst. A burst blood vessel can be caused by high blood pressure or an accident.
Trauma to the spinal cord can also cause bleeding in and around the spine and impair blood flow to the rest of the spinal cord. Bleeding around the spinal cord can cause swelling, compressing the spinal cord and leading to permanent spinal cord damage.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Spinal Stroke
The types of symptoms and areas of the body where the symptoms occur may depend on where the stroke is located. Spinal strokes are more common in the anterior spinal artery compared to the posterior spinal arteries. A stroke higher on the spinal cord (closer to the brain) may cause full-body symptoms (below the neck) compared to lower spine injuries which may cause paraplegia.
Signs and symptoms of a spinal injury, the patient's history, and family medical history may help a doctor suspect a possible spinal stroke or ischemic injury. This may also help rule out other conditions that have similar symptoms, like a back injury, abscess, inflammation, or tumor. Diagnosing a spinal cord injury often requires using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to look for any conditions causing pressure on the spinal cord or blockage of the blood supply.
Medical Malpractice in a Spinal Cord Stroke
There is little time to treat a spinal or brain stroke to have the greatest chance of recovery. Within hours or minutes, a stroke can cause permanent damage to the brain or spinal cord. A delayed diagnosis may be considered medical malpractice if it results in an otherwise avoidable permanent injury.
Medical professionals, including doctors and surgeons, are held to a standard of care. The standard of care is based on what other reasonable medical professionals would do in a similar situation. If the doctor breaches their duty of care which causes damage, the doctor may be liable.
Spinal cord injuries can be life-altering, requiring permanent use of a wheelchair or crutches, and may require around-the-clock care. Individuals with paraplegia or quadriplegia may also have a lower life expectancy and an increased rate of rehospitalization. If paralysis was caused by someone else's negligence, they should be held responsible for their actions.
Spinal Cord Stroke Malpractice Attorneys
At Gilman & Bedigian, we will use our experience, knowledge, and dedication to investigate spinal cord injuries to determine if the injury was caused by malpractice Our aggressive trial lawyers have helped our clients recover millions of dollars in compensation related to spinal cord injuries. Contact us online or call our law office at (800) 529-6162 for a free consultation.