A multicenter study of women's self-reported reproductive health after spinal cord injury

Academic Article


  • Objective: Little attention has been given to women's reproductive health issues in the disabled population. This study documents the unique reproductive health conditions, complications, and behaviors in women with spinal cord injury (SCI). Subjects: A total of 472 women at least 18 years of age who were at least 1 year post-SCI. Their average age at injury was 32 years. Design: An extensive questionnaire regarding gynecologic, sexual, obstetric, and menopausal health issues was developed and piloted. The questionnaire was then administered by a trained woman health care clinician to women who agreed to participate in the study. Setting: Private outpatient clinics at 10 regional model SCI systems of care. Results: Women reported similar gynecologic problems in both preinjury and postinjury time periods. Exceptions were urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections. Sexually transmitted infections appear to be less common after injury, but the difference was not statistically significant. The number of hysterectomies was similar both before and after injury, but reasons differed greatly. Women with SCI were less likely to have routine mammograms. They reported similar preventive practices such as performing self-breast examinations and obtaining Papanicolaou smears. Almost 14% of women with SCI became pregnant after injury (101 pregnancies). Complications from pregnancy, labor, and delivery were reported to be more frequent in their postinjury than in their preinjury obstetric experiences. They tended to have babies of lower birth weight and with more complications at time of delivery. Of the sample, 87% reported having sexual intercourse before injury, with only 67% having intercourse after injury. Years postinjury and level of injury were predictive of intercourse; extent of injury was not. Experience of orgasms and methods of contraception varied among the two groups. There were significant complaints of dysreflexia and bladder incontinence with sexual function. Menopause after injury was reported by 14.6% of the women. Postinjury menopausal symptoms were of low frequency, but more than those reported by women who had undergone menopause before injury. Only 19% of women who had menopause after SCI were placed on hormone replacement therapy. Almost one third of the women who had menopause after injury reported new bone fractures. Conclusion: This study illustrates the unique reproductive health concerns of women with SCI. Many pregnancy, labor, and delivery experiences in these women are different. Sexual activity and function have several disability-related consequences and the effects of menopause are still unknown, but may be more problematic than for able-bodied women.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Jackson AB; Wadley V
  • Start Page

  • 1420
  • End Page

  • 1428
  • Volume

  • 80
  • Issue

  • 11