Beware of the Danger of a Spinal Stroke

Spine and Back, Stroke, Symptoms and Diagnosis

Spinal cord infarction is a stroke within the spinal cord or the arteries that supply it. Spinal strokes occur when blood flow to the spine is blocked. Spinal strokes can lead to paralysis, and sometimes death, if not treated quickly. Spinal strokes can have severe, long-term consequences. A spinal stroke accounts for 1% of all strokes.

The majority of spinal strokes are ischemic, meaning they result from blood clots in blood vessels. If a doctor suspects a spinal stroke, an MRI is usually necessary. An MRI can help distinguish a spinal stroke form other conditions because it produces a detailed image of the spine, showing the location/area of a blood clot or bleed.

The Symptoms of a Spinal Stroke

The most common symptoms of a spinal stroke include lower body weakness, sharp back and neck pain, and loss of pain and temperature sensations. The signs and symptoms are related to the portion of the spinal cord affected, and appear below the level of the lesion. Temporary paresis in the limbs may occur days before the onset of spinal ischemic stroke.

Time is of the Essence in Treating a Spinal Stroke

The goal of treatment in an acute situation is to relieve pressure on the spinal cord. Surgical decompression should be undertaken asap to limit neurological injury. With timely treatment, it is possible that spinal cord ischemia patients have a full recovery.

Initial treatment of a spinal stroke aims to restore blood flow in the spine and prevent further complications. To treat an ischemic spinal stroke, clot dissolving medication such as Aspirin or tPA may be administered. To treat a hemorrhagic spinal stroke (caused by a burst artery), emergency surgery may be necessary. Timely treatment generally results in less severe damage and a greater potential for recovery.