Understanding autonomic dysreflexia

By 20 April, 2018 Health

Autonomic Dysreflexia (AD) is a medical condition that causes sudden and extreme increase of blood pressure. disreflexia autonomaIt is common by patients with spinal cord injuries in the neck or upper back. At  Humexe’s blog we analyse this condition and what should be done when facing it.


What is autonomic dysreflexia?

AD is a complication of the spinal cord injury that appears suddenly. It usually starts when something causes pain or irritation under the injured area and causing very high blood pressure as a main symptom. If left unattended, it may cause seizures or epileptic fits, brain haemorrhage, cardiac complications and sometimes death.

There are people more likely to suffer an autonomic dysreflexia crisis while others need a very strong stimulus to suffer one. AD affects over 30%  of patients with a spinal cord injury. It usually appears two months after the injury and in some cases this crisis just appears several years later. For that reason, it is a very important issue to know, so we can react properly to the very first signs.

Which are the symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia?

Not every patient has the same symptoms but the most common ones are the following:

  • Severe headache
  • Blurry vision
  • Stuffy nose
  • Heavy sweating on the face and upper part of the trunk
  •  Chills without running a fever
  • Flushing and goose bumps on the face and upper part of the trunk
  • Very high blood pressure
  • Slow heart rate

How to behave in an AD crisis?

If someone starts feeling any typical symptoms of AD, there are several recommendations that can be followed:

  1. If the person is lying, it is important to lean forward and remain seated. Blood pressure will remain lower.
  2. Loose anything that may rub or press: clothes, socks, shoes, urine bag tapes.
  3. It is important to check blood pressure every 5 minutes.
  4. Check the bladder. In case of intermittent catheterisation the bladder shall be emptied slowly. If a collector is used, it can be checked for tightness or wounds.
  5. If no cause is found in the bladder, wounds or lesions on the skin shall be searched that may be a sign of any other possible cause.
  6. Accompany the person to the doctor or driving the person to ER and inform the medical staff of the possible AD and blood pressure condition.

How can I prevent autonomic dysreflexia?

Medical staff has developed a highly informative programme on this subject. It is a reference guide for the sanitary staff to review it and to act quickly in the case of AD since it is an emergency condition that needs effective and quick treatment. This guide is available in the following website: Fundación Lesionado Medular (The Spinal Cord Injury Foundation).

We hope you found this post useful to identify an autonomic dysreflexia crisis. You can find more information on other health issues faced by patients with spinal cord injuries in the post about The importance of preventing pressure ulcers (PUs).

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