Is Scoliosis Life-Threatening?

Scoliosis patients often ask numerous questions about their condition when they are first diagnosed. While many of these questions relate to the patient's quality of life and cosmetic appearance, it is not uncommon for newly-diagnosed scoliosis sufferers to worry about their mortality, especially bearing in mind the progressive nature of the condition.

First of all, it is important to note that scoliosis is NOT considered to be a fatal condition. A curved spine cannot directly result in death.

However, there are some secondary risks which sometimes occur as a result of scoliosis, and these can lead to death in a small minority of cases. 

Lung & Heart Function

In its most severe form, scoliosis can affect the heart and lungs, limiting their ability to function and leading to complications that can potentially result in death. The deformity of the spine and chest wall can restrict lung function, thus reducing oxygen circulation, causing lung tissue to die off and preventing healthy lung growth in younger patients. This can also impact the heart's ability to function correctly, as the lack of oxygen and proper distribution causes progressive stress, along with the crowding of the organs.

This only occurs in patients with the most severe curvatures (i.e. 100 degrees or more). The symptoms of such conditions also become gradually worse over time, which completely eliminates the possibility that scoliosis could cause sudden death with no prior warning or opportunity to prevent it. Treatment is almost always administered long before the condition has an opportunity to progress to this point, which usually prevents the secondary risks from developing altogether.

Risks for Younger Scoliosis Sufferers 

Most cases of scoliosis develop during adolescence, although the condition can sometimes occur in very young children. Progressive infantile scoliosis is considered to present a higher risk to the patient than scoliosis that develops later in life due to the potential impact on a young, developing body and the risk of progression as the child matures. For this reason, preventative treatments such as bracing are usually recommended right away in order to reduce the risk of later-in-life complications as far as possible.

Risk of Death During Surgery 

Once an individual's spinal curve has reached an angle of 45-50 degrees, surgery is usually recommended in order to prevent the curve progressing to such an extent that it has a secondary impact on the individual's health. While the surgery can be a permanent solution to the progression of a spinal curvature, there are several associated risks which can arise as a result of surgery - infection, for example.

That being said, death during spinal fusion surgery is very rare indeed, especially among patients who are in good health aside from their scoliosis. For otherwise healthy patients, the incidence of death as a complication of surgery is said to be less than 1%. The risk is higher for those with other conditions, as well as for older patients, although it is important to note that this is also applies to any other surgical procedure.

Can Treatment Reduce My Risk of Life-Threatening Complications?

While a handful of scoliosis cases have led to the patient's death, there are many preventative measures which can be taken in order to avoid this outcome. Here at Scoliosis SOS, we specialise in providing individually-tailored correction treatments that are designed with the patient's specific requirements in mind. We have treated patients as young as 4 and as old as 90+, all with spinal curvatures of varying severity. By educating patients about their condition and teaching them the exercises needed to prevent future curve progression, we are able to avoid the risks associated with severe scoliosis and surgery, further reducing the already low chance of death by scoliosis.

If you are concerned about your spinal curvature and the risks that it might pose to your overall health, please feel free to get in touch with our team today. Contact us now to request further information or arrange a consultation.