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Title: Respiratory problems and management in people with spinal cord injury
Austin Authors: Berlowitz, David J ;Wadsworth, Brooke;Ross, Jacqueline M 
Affiliation: Institute for Breathing and Sleep, Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Victorian Spinal Cord Service, Austin Health, Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia
School of Human Services and Social Work, Griffith University, Logan Campus, Queensland, Australia
Physiotherapy Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba, Australia
Issue Date: Dec-2016
Publication information: Breathe 2016; 12(4): 328-340
Abstract: Spinal cord injury (SCI) is characterised by profound respiratory compromise secondary to the level of loss of motor, sensory and autonomic control associated with the injury. This review aims to detail these anatomical and physiological changes after SCI, and outline their impact on respiratory function. Injury-related impairments in strength substantially alter pulmonary mechanics, which in turn affect respiratory management and care. Options for treatments must therefore be considered in light of these limitations. KEY POINTS: Respiratory impairment following spinal cord injury (SCI) is more severe in high cervical injuries, and is characterised by low lung volumes and a weak cough secondary to respiratory muscle weakness.Autonomic dysfunction and early-onset sleep disordered breathing compound this respiratory compromise.The mainstays of management following acute high cervical SCI are tracheostomy and ventilation, with noninvasive ventilation and assisted coughing techniques being important in lower cervical and thoracic level injuries.Prompt investigation to ascertain the extent of the SCI and associated injuries, and appropriate subsequent management are important to improve outcomes. EDUCATIONAL AIMS: To describe the anatomical and physiological changes after SCI and their impact on respiratory function.To describe the changes in respiratory mechanics seen in cervical SCI and how these changes affect treatments.To discuss the relationship between injury level and respiratory compromise following SCI, and describe those at increased risk of respiratory complications.To present the current treatment options available and their supporting evidence.
DOI: 10.1183/20734735.012616
ORCID: 0000-0002-2562-1829
PubMed URL:
Type: Journal Article
Appears in Collections:Journal articles

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