Can Scoliosis Surgery Kill You?
Two common questions frequently arise when someone first learns about scoliosis and the available treatment options: Can scoliosis kill you; and can scoliosis surgery kill you? While scoliosis itself cannot kill you by itself (some types of scoliosis also have additional health issues), scoliosis surgery can have significant risks including infection and death.
Death is possible from scoliosis surgery, however, the exact rate of death from scoliosis surgery is unknown due to a lack of universal mandatory reporting and differences in determining when to attribute a death to a surgery. A systematic literature review by Weiss and Goodall in 2008 found that death rates varied based upon the type of scoliosis, co-morbidity, and patient age. Neuromuscular scoliosis cases have a death rate of 6.5%, adult scoliosis cases have a death rate of 2.5%, and Idiopathic Scoliosis (AIS) cases reported a death rate of .03%1.
The Scoliosis Research Society (SRS), consisting largely of surgeons who treat scoliosis, requires all members to participate in formal reporting of scoliosis complications, including the rate of death. SRS members may opt out of this mandatory reporting for a fine of only $200. Scoliosis surgery mortality rates from the 2016 SRS Morbidity and Mortality report2 vary from those reported by Weiss and Goodall, but both reports find the highest rate of death among neuromuscular scoliosis surgery.
Below are the Detailed Breakdowns From the 2016 SRS Mortality Report:
- Weiss H-R, Goodall D. Rate of complications in scoliosis surgery – a systematic review of the Pub Med literature. Scoliosis 2008;3:9.
- Burton DC, Carlson BB, Place HM, et al. Results of the Scoliosis Research Society Morbidity and Mortality Database 2009-2012, A Report From the Morbidity and Mortality Committee. Spine Deform 2016;4:338–43.