Injections for spinal pain linked to severe health complications, part one

In the last 10 years, the number of epidural shots administered by medical professionals to treat neck and back pain for Medicare patients in the U.S. has increased by 159 percent. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, about 8.9 million Americans received the injections during 2010. However, the FDA is now reviewing the safety of epidural injections as studies and complaints regarding side effects of the steroid shots such as strokes, paralysis, brain injuries and death continue to increase.

Injections to treat neck and back pain are increasing as a result of more Americans aging, but the number of injections administered each year may also be increasing because of the reimbursements doctors get from administering the steroid shots. Reimbursements for epidural shots can range from $200 to $600. Last year, Americans spent $23 billion on epidural steroid shots and other shots to treat chronic pain.

But do these shots benefit patients and are they even safe in the first place? Or are doctors administering the injections more than what is necessary in order to receive generous reimbursements?

The chief of pain medicine at Boston’s Massachusetts General Hospital said the epidural shots used to be considered safe to treat neck and back pain. But now he is not so sure after seeing too many cases of patients suffering serious complications from the injections that are administered near the spinal cord and into the epidural space.

Doctors did not realize the severe side effects patients could suffer from the injections until about 10 years ago when researchers and medical malpractice insurance companies began to notice a problem. It was discovered that there was a link between many patients who suffered serious injuries after receiving the injections. Many of them had become paralyzed or died.

We will continue this discussion next week, focusing on some of the injuries and side effects patients have suffered after receiving epidural shots to treat pain.

Source: Businessweek, “Epidurals Linked to Paralysis Seen With $300 Billion Pain Market,” David Armstrong, Jan. 4, 2012


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