What is autonomic dysreflexia?

Autonomic dysreflexia

Autonomic dysreflexia is a dangerous syndrome in which the blood pressure of a person with an SCI suddenly goes very high. It is your body's over-reaction to physical stress below your spinal cord injury. It happens when your body can't restore your blood pressure to normal because of your spinal cord damage.

Autonomic dysreflexia has many symptoms. The most common are a headache and a flushed face with red skin. Some people sweat above the level of the spinal cord injury. And some people have nausea or get a stuffy nose.

The most important thing to do first is try to fix the physical stress. You might need to drain your bladder, for example. You will need emergency care if you don't get better in a few minutes.

What are the symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia?

Symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia can affect the body above or below the level of the spinal injury. Common symptoms include a pounding headache, a flushed face and red blotches on the skin, and sweating, Others include a stuffy nose, nausea, and a slow or very fast heart rate.

How can you prevent autonomic dysreflexia?

There are ways you may be able to prevent autonomic dysreflexia. This means doing things to avoid the things that cause it.

  • To avoid an overfull bladder or urinary tract infections (UTIs), follow your bladder management program.
  • To avoid an overfull bowel or constipation or gastrointestinal problems such as gallstones, stomach ulcers, or gastritis, follow your bowel management program. Eat fiber and consume fluids as your doctor suggests.
  • To avoid pressure injuries, ingrown nails, or other skin problems, check your skin daily. Make sure that all clothing or devices fit right.
  • Be aware that having sex can cause the condition. Discuss this with your doctor.
  • Be aware of what else can cause the condition. This includes broken bones or other injuries, tight clothing or devices, and extreme temperatures or quick changes in temperature. Discuss this with your doctor. Make sure that all clothing and devices fit right.

How can you care for yourself when you have autonomic dysreflexia?

You may be able to treat autonomic dysreflexia at home. Empty your bladder or bowels. Loosen or remove tight clothing or bandages. Sit up straight and put your legs down. Get emergency care if your symptoms don't get better in a few minutes.

What causes autonomic dysreflexia?

Autonomic dysreflexia occurs when your body reacts to pain or pressure below your spinal cord injury. This can be a pain or an irritant (such as tight clothing or something pinching your skin). Or it can be a normal function that your body may not notice (such as having a full bladder). These situations trigger an automatic reaction that causes your blood pressure to go up. Other things that may cause this reaction include:

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs).
  • An overfull bowel or constipation.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as gallstones, stomach ulcers, or gastritis.
  • Pressure injuries.
  • Ingrown nails or other skin problems.
  • Sexual activity.
  • Broken bones or other injuries.
  • Tight clothing or devices.
  • Extreme temperatures or quick temperature changes.

What is autonomic dysreflexia?

Autonomic dysreflexia is a dangerous syndrome in which the blood pressure of a person with a spinal cord injury (SCI) suddenly goes very high. It is your body's reaction to physical stress below your SCI. It happens when your body can't restore your blood pressure to normal because of spinal cord damage.

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