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Dis Colon Rectum. 1990 Feb;33(2):131-4.

Colorectal disease in spinal cord patients. An occult diagnosis.

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Department of Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, West Haven, Connecticut.


Undiagnosed abdominal emergencies account for 10 percent of all fatalities among patients with spinal cord injuries. A large number of these emergencies involve the lower gastrointestinal tract. The purpose of this study is to bring attention to the occult nature of colorectal disease in spinal cord patients and to highlight the subtle, but characteristic, symptoms and signs that develop in these patients. The authors identified 13 spinal cord patients in whom a lesion developed in either the appendix, colon, rectum, or anus. The average age of all patients was 36.2 years. Trauma and multiple sclerosis were the most common etiology of spinal cord injury. The most common presenting symptoms were abdominal distention, vomiting, and constipation. The average delay in diagnosis of the colorectal disease was 35.8 hours. An 84% morbidity and 22% mortality were observed. This study indicates that any deviation from the normal lifestyle of the spinal cord patient should alert one to the possibility of visceral inflammation. Furthermore, close attention to the signs of autonomic dysreflexia or changes in spasticity, along with a thorough evaluation of the ill-appearing spinal cord patient, may uncover occult colonic or rectal disease.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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