Decreased Risk of Blindness from Spinal Fusion

Results of new research published earlier this week show that the risk of blindness from surgery from spinal fusion has decreased by a factor of almost 3 times since the late 1990s. The study, undertaken by researchers from the University of Chicago, Vanderbilt University, and the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at UIC, is described as the largest on the topic completed to date. Using data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, the team estimated that, in fusion procedures performed between 1998 and 2012, the incidence of blindness declined by 60%. Senior author Steven Roth, MD, FARVO, commented, “While there are significant complications that can result from spinal-fusion surgery, it seems that blindness…is one that has become far rarer in recent years.” The results were published online in the journal Anesthesiology.

Almost 480,000 spinal fusions are performed in the US annually, a steep increase over the last 20 years. The risk of resultant blindness has been pegged at 1/1000 to 1/10,000, and concern about the potential for this devastating complication has intensified with the increasing frequency of the surgery. The procedure is considered a last-resort option for pain and nerve damage caused by disc degradation that may result from age, obesity, trauma, or sedentary lifestyle. Roth attributed the decline in blindness risk to the increasing use of minimally invasive techniques, and to changes in anesthesia practice setting stricter limits on blood pressure drop during surgery. This latter change may lower the risk for ischemic optic neuropathy.

Read a news story about the study findings here.

The journal abstract may be read here.



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