Risks and Benefits
Please ask your doctor any questions you have about your specific risk factors and the benefits you may expect from surgery. It is important to have realistic expectations for the outcome of your surgery and to approach your surgery with confidence and a positive attitude.
The final decision to have surgery is yours, so be sure you have a thorough understanding of the anticipated outcome, then weigh the risks and benefits involved.
General Risks of Surgery
There are certain common risks involved with having any surgery. They may include excessive bleeding, infection, or a negative reaction to anesthesia.
Anesthetic agents may cause problems with the heart or lungs. There is a risk from anesthetic alone and you should discuss this with the anesthesiologist. Any time an incision is made in the skin, there is a risk of infection or bleeding postoperatively. This may require a second surgery if it were to occur.
Extra weight may be harmful to your back. Extra weight puts pressure on the spine and leads to degeneration. A protruding abdomen causes exaggerated lordosis (a sway-back condition). If you are overweight, you must shed those extra pounds before surgery. If, however, because of back pain, you are not in a position to wait to have your surgery, you must begin losing weight soon after your operation. Your doctor will help you determine your ideal weight.
DO NOT SMOKE. Smoking has been found to delay or prevent bone fusion. It dramatically increases the rate of disc degeneration and scar formation. You must stop smoking before surgery and during the healing process.
Cervical and Lumbar Surgical Risks
There may be material risks of infection, allergic reaction, disfiguring scar, severe loss of blood, loss or loss of function of any limb or organ, paralysis, paraplegia or quadriplegia, brain damage, cardiac arrest or death.
In addition to these material risks, there may be other possible risks involved, including but not limited to bone not healing or extruding, infection, nerve injury or spinal cord injury, chronic hoarseness, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), vocal cord injury or having to remove the plate.
With surgery in and around the spine, further nerve damage is a possibility. In some cases, the nerve is already so damaged that the surgical procedure required to simply reach the nerve could be catastrophic to that particular nerve. The end result could be numbness in legs and/or groin, paralysis, bowel or bladder difficulty (problems urinating or having bowel movements) or sexual dysfunction. Other possible risks may include persistent pain, spinal fluid leak, injury to blood vessels, infection, retrograde ejaculation in males, bleeding, blood clots, Aids (if blood bank blood is given), or failure of the fusion to heal (pseudoarthrosis), which can require further surgery (increased risk in smokers). However, deciding not to have surgery may have exactly the same consequences. Your decision should be based on a weighing of the risks of having surgery versus the risks of not having surgery.
It is also possible that you will not improve from the surgery, or that with time you may develop spinal instability that only a second operation can correct.
Surgery of any kind is a stress to the whole body. Clinical and scientific calculations indicate that, in general, surgical risks are limited; however, surgery is a human effort. The practice of medicine is not an exact science and no guarantees or assurances can be made concerning results of procedures. Unforeseen circumstances can complicate any surgical procedure and can lead to serious or even life-threatening situations. Although such complications are rare, you should feel free to discuss the question of risk with your doctor.