Epidemiology of acute spinal cord injuries in the Groote Schuur Hospital Acute Spinal Cord Injury (GSH ASCI) Unit, Cape Town, South Africa, over the past 11 years

  • J Sothmann
  • J Stander
  • N Kruger
  • R Dunn


Background. Spinal cord injury (SCI) is devastating to both patient and society, with acute management and ongoing care being extremely expensive. Few epidemiological data are available on SCIs in South Africa (SA).
Objectives. To identify the epidemiological profile of SCI patients at Groote Schuur Hospital (GSH), Cape Town, SA, and identify seasonal trends and peak periods. As the majority of the injuries are preventable, these data are important to develop prevention strategies. Methods. A retrospective review of prospectively collected data was conducted on all patients admitted to the Acute Spinal Cord Injury (ASCI) Unit at GSH from 1 April 2003 to 31 March 2014. All cases registered on a prospectively maintained database were included in the study.
Results. The total number of patients admitted to the ASCI Unit was 2 042, with an average of 185 admissions per year. The male/female ratio was 5.25:1. The 21 - 30-year-old age category was the largest, comprising 33.5% of the patients. The most prevalent cause of injury was motor vehicle accidents (44.6%), followed by violence-related injuries (27.2%). Thirty-two point two percent of patients needed ventilatory support, and 91.5% of mechanically ventilated patients were successfully weaned. December was the busiest month in the unit. In patients in whom neurological deficit was incomplete, the average motor function improvement was 16.0%.
Conclusions. Data capturing and analysis of SCIs should be encouraged in SA to guide management and prevention strategies, and to optimise outcomes. This study establishes the ASCI Unit at GSH to be one of the key role players in acute SCI management in SA.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135