Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a dangerous rise in blood pressure in people with spinal cord injuries.
AD can be serious. If it is not treated right away, it can lead to seizures, stroke, and death. Treatment is aimed at finding and eliminating the problem that started the reaction.
Pain can cause an increase in blood pressure. In people with spinal lesions, pain may not be felt but can stimulate a physical reaction. In particular, local blood vessels shrink in response to the pain which increases blood pressure. Normally the brain will receive messages about the increase in blood pressure and take steps to lower the blood pressure back to normal. With AD, the message cannot reach the brain because of the spinal injury. As a result, the blood pressure continues to rise to dangerous levels.
AD can be caused by anything that would have been painful or physically uncomfortable before your spinal cord injury. The pain stimulation most often associated with AD is an overfull bladder. A blockage in your catheter, an infection, bladder spasms, or stones can all create pain stimulation.
Other factors that may cause pain stimulation include:
AD occurs more often in people who have spinal cord injuries at the level of T6 and above (upper back). It is also more common in people with recent spinal cord injuries.
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
Sometimes you will have no symptoms at all. Symptoms that do occur may include:
If you check your blood pressure, you will notice that it is increased.
AD is suspected when:
AD is treated by addressing the problem causing it. Steps to take at home include:
After the problem has been addressed:
If you cannot find a cause or if symptoms are continuing or getting worse, call for medical help right away. Medical care may include blood pressure lowering medication and monitoring.
If you have a spinal cord injury, carry an AD medical alert card with you. This can alert people you are with if you have symptoms of AD and what steps to take.
Preventing AD is very important. If you have an indwelling urinary catheter, take these steps to prevent problems that could lead to AD:
Other steps you can take to prevent AD include:
National Institutes of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Paralyzed Veterans of America
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Paraplegic Association
Autonomic dysreflexia. The National Spinal Cord Injury Association website. Available at: http://www.spinalc... . Accessed January 18, 2012.
Other complications of spinal cord injury: autonomic dysreflexia (hyperreflexia). University of Miamai/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, Louis Calder Memorial Library website. Available at: http://calder.med.miami.edu/pointis/automatic.html . Accessed June 12, 2013.
Spinal cord injury – chronic management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed . Updated May 22, 2013. Accessed June 12, 2013.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Last Updated: 1/13/2014