Scoliosis (cont.)

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What are the symptoms and signs of scoliosis?

The most common symptom of scoliosis is an abnormal curve of the spine. Often this is a mild change and may be first noticed by a friend or family member. The change in the curve of the spine typically occurs very slowly so it is easy to miss until it becomes more severe. It can also be found on a routine school screening examination for scoliosis. Those affected may notice that their clothes do not fit as they did previously or that pant legs are longer on one side that the other.

Scoliosis may cause the head to appear off center or one hip or shoulder to be higher than the opposite side. You may have a more obvious curve on one side of the rib cage on your back from twisting of the vertebrae and ribs. If the scoliosis is more severe, it can make it more difficult for the heart and lungs to work properly. This can cause shortness of breath and chest pain.

In most cases, scoliosis is not painful, but there are certain types of scoliosis than can cause back pain. Additionally, there are other causes of back pain, which your doctor will want to look for as well.

How is scoliosis diagnosed?

If you think you have scoliosis, you can see your doctor for an examination. The doctor will ask questions, including if there is any family history of scoliosis, or if you have had any pain, weakness, or other medical problems.

The physical examination involves looking at the curve of the spine from the sides, front, and back. The person will be asked to undress from the waist up to better see any abnormal curves. The person will then bend over trying to touch their toes. This position can make the curve more obvious. The doctor will also look at the symmetry of the body to see if the hips and shoulders are at the same height. Any skin changes will also be identified that can suggest scoliosis due to a birth defect. Your doctor may check your range of motion, muscle strength, and reflexes.

The more growth that a person has remaining increases the chances of scoliosis getting worse. As a result, the doctor may measure the person's height and weight for comparison with future visits. Other clues to the amount of growth remaining are signs of puberty such as the presence of breasts or pubic hair and whether menstrual periods have begun in girls.

If the doctor believes you have scoliosis, you could either be asked to return for an additional examination in several months to see if there is any change, or the doctor may obtain X-rays of your back. If X-rays are obtained, the doctor can make measurements from them to determine how large of a curve is present. This can help decide what treatment, if any, is necessary. Measurements from future visits can be compared to see if the curve is getting worse.

It is important that your doctor knows how much further growth you have left. Additional X-rays of the hand and wrist or pelvis can help determine how much more you have to grow. If your doctor finds any changes in the function of your nerves, he or she may order other imaging tests of your spine including an MRI or CT scan to look more closely at the bones and nerves of your spine.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/31/2014

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