Model System:


Reference Type:

Accession No.:


Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Year, Volume, Issue, Page(s):

, 103, 4, 634–641


Objective: To identify trends in causes of death after spinal cord injury (SCI) that could enhance understanding of why life expectancy after SCI has not improved in the last 3 decades.

Design: Cohort study.

Setting: Twenty-nine SCI Model Systems and 3 Shriners Hospitals.

Participants: Individuals with traumatic SCI (N=49,266) enrolled in the SCI Collaborative Survival Study Database between 1973 and 2017.

Interventions: Not applicable.

Main outcome measures: Age-standardized cause-specific SCI mortality rates and 95% confidence intervals were calculated for 5 time intervals (1960-1979, 1980-1989, 1990-1999, 2000-2009, and 2010-2017).

Results: A total of 17,249 deaths occurred in 797,226 person-years of follow-up. Since 2010, the highest mortality rate was for respiratory diseases, followed by heart disease, cancer, infective and parasitic diseases (primarily septicemia), and unintentional injuries. Mortality rates for respiratory diseases, cancer, stroke, urinary diseases, and digestive diseases, initially decreased significantly but remained relatively stable since 1980, whereas essentially no progress occurred for infective and parasitic diseases. Mortality rates for heart disease, pulmonary embolus, and suicide decreased significantly throughout the entire study period, but were offset by increases in mortality rates for endocrine (primarily diabetes), nutritional, and metabolic diseases, as well as unintentional injuries. From 2010 to 2017, the overall age-standardized mortality rate was 3 times higher for individuals with SCI than the general population, ranging from 27% higher for cancer to 9 times higher for infective and parasitic diseases.

Conclusion: Improving life expectancy after SCI will require: (1) reducing mortality rates from respiratory diseases and septicemia that have remained high, (2) reversing current trends in diabetes and unintentional injury deaths, and (3) continuing to reduce mortality from heart disease and other leading causes.


Michael J DeVivo, Yuying Chen, Huacong Wen

Participating Centers: