Characteristics and outcomes of gunshot-acquired spinal cord injury in South Africa

Conran Joseph


Background. Spinal cord injuries (SCIs) caused by assault present a unique challenge facing the healthcare system, in that very little is known about how these injuries manifest compared with other causes of injury. Understanding the nuances of gunshot SCIs could contribute towards better care provision.

Objective. To determine the characteristics of gunshot SCI and compare both injury characteristics and outcomes between gunshot SCI and all other traumatic causes taken together.

Methods. The gunshot SCI sub-cohort was derived from a 1-year prospective, population-based study, including both tertiary-level hospitals providing SCI care in the Cape Metropolitan area of South Africa (SA). All consenting 145 survivors, after a window period of 7 days, were included, and their demographic and injury characteristics were captured according to the International SCI Core Basic Data Set. Further, selected secondary medical complications (outcomes) were prospectively and routinely assessed throughout acute care. Both descriptive and inferential statistics were used to describe and compare characteristics and outcomes, respectively.

Results. Of the 145 survivors of traumatic SCIs, 45 (31%) injuries were caused by gunshots. The gunshot SCI group consisted mainly of males (n=43, 96%), and the average age of injury onset was 26 years. Most survivors of the gunshot SCI group were paraplegic (69%), had complete lesions (69%) and vertebral injuries (96%), and presented with significant associated injuries (84%). When comparing gunshot SCI with all other traumatic causes, significant differences were found in relation to demographic and injury characteristics and adverse outcomes, indicating that those survivors with gunshot SCI were typically younger males with complete paraplegia, had more frequent secondary medical complications, and a longer hospital stay.

Conclusion. This study contributes to the knowledge base of survivors with gunshot SCIs in a region of SA. Efforts should be made to reduce the occurrence of all gunshot SCIs, since those injuries affect survivors negatively in terms of injury characteristics and adverse outcomes.

Author's affiliations

Conran Joseph, Physiotherapy Department, Community and Health Sciences Faculty, University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa; Physiotherapy Division, Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden

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Gunshot injuries; Traumatic spinal cord injury; Injury characteristics; Outcomes; Secondary medical conditions; South Africa

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2017;107(6):518-522. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v107i6.12296

Article History

Date submitted: 2017-05-24
Date published: 2017-05-24

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