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What are some effects of a spinal cord injury?

An injury to the spinal cord can have devastating effects on the body. Below the level of the injury, the patient may experience loss of sensation, including loss of the ability to sense touch, heat and cold. Paralysis can render the patient unable to move parts of the body. Some patients may experience exaggerated reflex responses and movements.

Bladder or bowel control may be lost following a spinal cord injury. Fertility and sexual function can be compromised. Patients may experience stinging sensations or pain, and may have trouble breathing or coughing up secretions.

Paralysis is perhaps the best-known result of a spinal cord injury. The patient's ability to control and move their limbs after the injury will depend mainly on two factors: the severity of the injury and the location on the spinal cord where the injury occurred. Severity is classified as either complete or incomplete. A complete injury means virtually all motor function and sensation are lost below the level of the injury. If some sensation and ability to move remains below the injury site, the injury is classified as incomplete.

When paralysis occurs it can be classified as either paraplegia or quadriplegia. Paraplegia means some or all of the trunk, pelvic organs and legs are affected. Quadriplegia means all four limbs as well as the trunk and pelvic organs are affected.

Spinal cord injuries can result from car accidents, workplace accidents, and swimming pool and diving accidents, among other causes. Like brain injury victims, those who have suffered a serious spinal cord injury generally require long-term medical care and extensive rehabilitation. When the injury is caused by the negligence of another party, the victim has the right to sue that party and recover compensation for medical expenses, lost income, permanent disability and pain and suffering.

Source: Mayo Clinic, "Diseases and Conditions: Spinal cord injury: Symptoms," accessed March 17, 2015

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