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Risk Factors for Vision Loss After Spine Surgery Identified

Last Updated: December 29, 2011.

Rare complication occurs in as many as one out of every 1,000 spine surgeries, researchers say.

THURSDAY, Dec. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers have identified six risk factors linked to blindness after spine surgery, a rare but devastating complication.

Known as ischemic optic neuropathy, or ION, the complication occurs when the optic nerve located behind the eyeball is injured. It is estimated to occur in as many as one in 1,000 spine surgeries. Though rare, it can happen to healthy patients at any age, according to researchers.

For the new study, investigators gathered information from a large national database created by the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) to identify patients who were blinded after spine surgery and compared the data to patients undergoing similar spine surgeries from 17 medical centers in North America but who did not experience vision loss.

The six risk factors associated with blindness or partial blindness included: being male; being obese; use of a surgical frame that places the head lower than the heart; the length of the surgery; amount of blood loss; and the use of certain fluids that replace lost blood.

"Our research represents the largest study performed on this complication to date with very detailed data available for comparison," the study's lead author, Dr. Lorri Lee of the University of Washington, said in an ASA news release. "Our identification of the six major risk factors for ION hopefully means that some of these risk factors can be modified in certain situations, with the potential to decrease the risk of blindness after major back surgery."

The study is published in the January issue of the journal Anesthesiology.

More information

The University of Maryland Spine Program has more about the complications of spine surgery.

SOURCE: American Society of Anesthesiologists, news release, Dec. 21, 2011

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