High-Pressure Chambers Could Prevent Paralysis After Spinal Cord Injury

timated 250,000 Americans have spinal cord injuries, according to the American Paralysis Association. On average, 11,000 new injuries are reported every year. The cost of treating and caring for these individuals can range from $600,000 to $1.3 million over a lifetime, depending on age and the degree of injury.

James cautioned that hyperbaric oxygen therapy, as the high-pressure procedure is called, is useful only in cases where the spinal cord is bruised, but not in cases where it is physically severed.

The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center does not keep statistics on what proportion of spinal cord injuries are limited to bruising, but James said "the vast majority" fall into this category.

A number of very positive animal studies on the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in treating spinal cord injury have been published, James said. On humans, it has been used on a number of spinal cord injured patients over the past 20 years in the United States, Germany and Australia but no large scale studies have been conducted.

One impediment was that until recently, there was no way to tell whether the spinal cord was bruised or severed, James said.

"If you go on the physical symptoms of the patient you can't tell," he said.

Recent improvements in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), however, now make it possible to determine which spinal cord casualties should be treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Unfortunately, James said, "most trauma centers do not have hyperbaric chambers, which is a tragedy, and most physicians don't understand the need to increase the dissolved oxygen in the plasma of the blood. They stop at hemoglobin saturation."

The four-day meeting -- the Congress on Cerebral Ischemia, Vascular Dementia, Epilepsy and CNS Injury: New Aspects of Prevention and Treatment from Space and Underwater Explorati

Contact: Robert Conn
Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center

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