Primary Nursing Diagnosis

Ineffective airway clearance related to hypoventilation or airway obstruction

OUTCOMES. Respiratory status: Gas exchange and ventilation; Safety status: Physical injury

INTERVENTIONS. Airway insertion; Airway management; Airway suctioning; Oral health promotion; Respiratory monitoring; Ventilation assistance


Maintenance of airway, breathing, and circulation is the highest priority in patients with SCI. The patient with a cervical or high thoracic injury is at risk for developing pulmonary insufficiency, problems with airway clearance, and ineffective breathing patterns. The patient may require endotracheal intubation or tracheostomy with mechanical ventilation. Assess tidal volume and vital capacity every 2 hours in the patient who is not endotracheally intubated. Hydration may be provided by intravenous (IV) crystalloid fluids or by dextran, a plasma expander that may be used to increase capillary blood flow.

The benefits of early spinal stabilization are decreased morbidity and decreased length of hospital stay, but the neurological benefits are controversial. Although this is a temporary intervention, external stabilization may be accomplished by Gardner-Wells tongs, which can be applied until surgical stabilization can be performed. A halo apparatus can be applied either as a primary intervention or to protect a surgical repair. This device immobilizes the cervical spine but allows the patient increased mobility. Patients with stable thoracolumbar spine fractures require only support with a rigid external brace for several months. Timing for surgical (internal) stabilization of cervical spine injuries is controversial. Some suggest that early surgical stabilization enhances neurological recovery and decreases morbidity, but others believe that early stabilization may increase biochemical alterations and vascular instability.

Patients with unstable thoracolumbar spine fractures are managed with metal rods and surgical decompression. Neurological outcome may be improved by postponing surgery until spinal cord edema is decreased.

Postoperative patients may require a rigid cervical collar or rigid external brace to protect the surgical repair. Patients with acute SCI from penetrating trauma may require surgical intervention for d├ębridement and closure of the dura, if cerebrospinal fluid leakage persists. If x-ray films demonstrate that a bullet or other foreign body is within the spinal cord, surgical removal may be recommended to decrease the likelihood of chronic radicular pain.

856 Spinal Cord Injury

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