What is the prognosis for scoliosis?
The earlier scoliosis is diagnosed, the better as this helps to maximise patient outcomes with effective treatment that can slow or prevent the progression of spinal curvature. As such, some schools have implemented screening programs to help in identifying scoliosis cases during the initial stages of the condition. This enables sufferers to seek early treatment through either observation or in severe cases, through surgery.
The rule of thumb regarding scoliosis is that as the degree of curvature increases, the worse the prognosis becomes.
Mild scoliosis may result in little to no issues while moderate cases may cause chronic pain and limited range of motion.
If scoliosis is left untreated and progresses, the condition may lead to a severe spinal deformity that is often painful and renders the sufferer unable to walk normally or work physically.
In severe cases of structural sclerosis, where curvature exceeds 70 degrees, rotation of the spine may result in the ribs pressing against the heart and/or lungs, restricting breathing, lowering oxygen levels in the body and causing life threatening changes to the heart.
In cases where curvature exceeds 100 degrees, sufferers are highly susceptible to infections of the lungs such a pneumonia, while heart and lung injuries may result from the structural pressure of the bones placed on them. Mortality rates as a result are, however, not common in developed countries.
Surgical prognosis for scoliosis
Thanks to new advances in scoliosis surgery, there are now less invasive surgical options available that result in shorter recovery periods and less pain as well as favourable long term outcomes. In fact, teenagers who undergo spinal fusions using modern surgical techniques have very promising results a decade after surgery without damage to the spine below the fused discs as was originally anticipated by experts.
The usual complications associated with surgery such as pain and infection may still occur. Recovery time after surgery will depend on the specific surgery performed as some procedures might require an extended stay in hospital, after which the patient may need to stay in a rehabilitation facility for a few weeks. Other patients may recover relatively quickly and have no need for rehabilitation. There are also techniques that are still being researched and developed that will one day allow for more effective treatment and recovery.
Pregnancy and reproductive prognosis for those with scoliosis
Scoliosis in women that has been successfully treated will lead to few, if any, complications during pregnancy and while giving birth. There is no risk of spinal curve progression in an expectant mother due to pregnancy and no risk is imposed on a developing foetus. There is, however, a higher risk of lower back pain in pregnant women with scoliosis.
Those with severe forms of the condition that affects the lungs will have to be under the regular care of a medical doctor and will be closely monitored for any signs of complications that could be of risk to them or their unborn child.
A number of people with mild to moderate scoliosis lead healthy and productive lives with a life expectancy that is relatively normal.
The following information explains scoliosis and its effect on life expectancy:
Is scoliosis a deadly condition?
The majority of cases of scoliosis are not deadly. However, there are a number of factors related to the condition that may play a role in life expectancy, these include:
- Accumulation of stress – Patients whose scoliosis is mild do not tend to have symptoms severe enough to impact their functional abilities, however, milder symptoms of scoliosis may accumulate significantly, placing strain on the body. Emotional stress can also result from the self-consciousness induced by spinal deformities, in addition, patients may suffer from chronic fatigue and pain, headaches, issues with digestion and sleeping. These symptoms may eventually affect the patient’s quality of life.
- Reduced lung function – When spinal curves associated with scoliosis begin to progress, they may place an abnormal amount of pressure on the lungs. In severe cases of scoliosis, the spinal curvature can force the ribs to push against the lungs, leading to breathing issues and lower levels of oxygen in the patient’s body. While these severe spinal curves may affect lung function, once the child is passed the age of five and their lungs are fully developed this does not result in death, regardless of the severity of the curve. This condition may, however, make these sufferers more vulnerable to lung infections and pneumonia.
- Spinal surgery – Spinal surgery is a controllable factor associated with the life expectancy of scoliosis. Patients opting for a spinal fusion will have to take an increased mortality rate due to surgical risks into consideration. However, chances of death are below one percent for patients who are generally otherwise healthy, although the odds will increase to 20 percent for patients who have low vitality. Should surgery be successful, the patient may still suffer from long-term complications with up to 40 percent of surgery patients ending up severely disabled.