6 Reasons to Consider Bloodless Surgery to Fix Chronic Back Pain

Bloodless surgery

What are the Advantages of Bloodless Surgery?

Are you living with severe back or beck pain? Here’s another reason to get help. Bloodless surgery and laser spine procedures offer a high level of safety. They also offer the same or better outcomes than traditional back surgery.

Many people put off spine operations because they are afraid they will lose too much blood and need a transfusion. That is a possibility for patients who have open-back surgery, where the incision is 5- to 6-inches long and muscles are cut and torn.

But today’s small-incision laser spine surgery and blood-sparing methods are gaining in popularity.

“I’ve done more than 8,000 surgeries and have never given a blood transfusion,” says Dr. James St. Louis, director of Physician Partners of America Minimally Invasive Spine Group. “There are dramatically fewer complications with bloodless surgery.”

Bloodless Surgery Advantages

“Bloodless” means ways to reduce blood loss in surgery, recycle the body’s own blood if needed, and cut the risks that come with transfusion of banked blood. The Center for Bloodless Medicine and Surgery at Johns Hopkins Healthcare says bloodless surgery:

  • Lowers risk of hospital infection
  • Lowers risk of complications
  • Has zero risk of  receiving infected blood or the wrong type
  • Leads to fewer allergic reactions
  • Speeds up recovery
  • Saves money

Today, at least 100 U.S. hospitals have set up departments for bloodless medicine.

Laser Spine Surgery – a Bloodless Option

Advances in medicine have made it easier to reduce blood loss in spine surgeries, as well as many other types of operations.

Together, minimally invasive spine surgery (MISS) and laser spine surgery are essentially bloodless procedure. They are almost always performed at an outpatient surgery center, where patients go home the same day. They use small incisions (usually under one inch) and either ultra-high heat (ablation) or lasers to cauterize blood vessels.

The best laser spine surgeons also utilize muscle-sparing techniques to reach the spine. They use a series of tubes to spread apart the muscles surrounding the spine instead of cutting. “It allows me to see the spinal cord better and reduce bleeding and complications,” says Dr. St. Louis. MISS surgeons work through these tubes with tiny instruments and magnification.

Where Did Bloodless Medicine Get Its Start?

Among the most well-known group to undergo bloodless surgery are Jehovah’s Witnesses. This Christian religion believes the Bible prohibits ingesting blood. Its believers do not accept blood transfusions, and don’t donate or store their own blood for later use. Others who might consider this type of surgery are those who are concerned about infections from donated blood, and people with weakened immune systems.

Serious, peer-reviewed studies of this practice in the 1980s and 90s showed that patient outcomes were no different – and in some cases better – than those performed with transfusions. As a result, transfusions have decreased by more than 33 percent in the United States since 2008, according to the American Red Cross and research by Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.

Bloodless Surgery Techniques

For people choose not to donate their own blood before surgery, there are many ways to preserve their blood supply during a procedure.

A patient’s hemoglobin, or red blood cells, are built up before surgery through supplements. This helps ward off anemia, or low red blood cell count. It also makes the patient strong enough to withstand an operation.

Any blood shed during a procedure is carefully collected, filtered, and recycled back into the body using a “cell saver” machine. The blood is also mildly diluted before surgery, so fewer red cells are lost. To further avoid excess bleeding, steps are taken to keep blood pressure and body temperature in check. Special instruments and operating tables can also be used.

What are the Disadvantages of Bloodless Surgery?

Like any operation, bloodless surgery carries some risks. These include possible bad reactions to medicines taken before or after surgery, and a higher risk of complications if a patient smokes.

Bloodless Surgery Cost Savings

The Joint Commission on Accreditation adds that preserving blood during elective surgery leads to healthcare savings, with a 25 percent reduction in the length of a hospital stay. The American Journal of Surgery estimates the cost of preparing, storing and using donated blood costs about $1,000 per patient.

While hospitals don’t take an official position on transfusions, some present it as a choice for patients facing major procedures.

“During intake, the nurse asks the patient if they would refuse a transfusion,” said Robin Atkins, director of the Bloodless Medicine Department at Tampa General Hospital. The hospital on Florida’s west coast started its bloodless medicine department in 2001. “This creates a consciousness about transfusion and the alternatives.”

While some operations come with a greater risk of bleeding, doctors who agree to perform bloodless surgery abide by a patient’s wishes. “If the patient is an adult with the capacity to make healthcare decisions, doctors will respect their wishes.”

If you’re serious about exploring bloodless surgery, a doctor skilled in this technique will carefully help you weigh the advantages and risks in advance. And if you are considering a procedure to treat chronic back pain, minimally invasive laser spine surgery is a strong option.