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Risks Linked To Spinal Injections Prior To Meningitis Outbreak

Since the outbreak of meningitis, there have been 19 reported deaths, and over 200 cases linked to contaminated spinal steroid injections.

However, spinal injections have been linked to severe complications, such as nerve damage, paralysis and stroke, prior to the outbreak.

From 2000 to 2010, Medicare records show an increase of nearly 160 percent in the number of injections, despite the complications associated with the steroid injections. An anonymous survey of 287 pain physicians also found 78 complications, including 13 deaths, among their patients receiving injections.

Spinal injections, given to patients suffering from back pain, are made into the epidural space just outside the spinal column, the same site used by women in labor to receive anesthetic. However, the needle can shift, putting the drug into the spinal fluid or arteries, causing nerve damage and hemorrhages. Another complication is arachnoiditis, the inflammation of a membrane surrounding the nerves of the spinal cord that causes pain, nerve damage and bowel and bladder dysfunction.

The steroid injections are also approved by the FDA only for relieving inflammation in joints, not for epidural injections. However, doctors are allowed to prescribe drugs for unapproved uses, and believe the injections are less risky than surgery or narcotics.

The increase in injections is also believed to be linked to financial incentives, as Medicare and private insurers pay hundreds of dollars for injections.

The FDA is currently focusing on developing injection techniques with a lower risk of injury.

For more information regarding injuries sustained from spinal injections, please contact us.

Source: The New York Times, "Before a Wave of Meningitis, Shots Were Tied to Risks," Oct. 11, 2012.

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