Know the Signs of Autonomic Dysreflexia!

Know the Signs of Autonomic Dysreflexia!

What is Autonomic Dysreflexia?

Autonomic Dysreflexia, also known as hyperreflexia, represents over-activity of the Autonomic Nervous System causing an abrupt onset of excessively high blood pressure. Individuals’ with a spinal cord injury at T-6 level or above are usually at risk for Autonomic Dysreflexia.   Autonomic Dysreflexia can develop quickly and is potentially life threatening and is considered a medical emergency. If not treated promptly and correctly, it may lead to seizures, strokes, and even death.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Pounding headache (caused by the elevation in blood pressure)
  • Goosebumps
  • Sweating above the level of injury
  • Nasal Congestion
  • Slow Pulse
  • Blotching of the Skin
  • Restlessness
  • Hypertension (blood pressure greater than 200/100)
  • Flushed (reddened) face
  • Red blotches on the skin above level of spinal injury
  • Sweating above level of spinal injury
  • Nausea
  • Slow pulse (< 60 beats per minute)
  • Cold, clammy skin below level of spinal injury.

What to do?

  • Sit up or raise your head 90 degrees.
  • Take off or loosen anything tight or restrictive.
  • Monitor your blood pressure every 5 minutes if greater than 20mm Hg over your baseline. Be sure to use an appropriate size cuff.
  • Empty your bladder (i.e., catheterize your bladder.) If you have an indwelling catheter check for kinks and blockages.
  • Disimpact bowel after inserting anesthetic jelly or ointment.
  • Examine skin for new wounds, pressure ulcers, burns, cuts, insect bites, etc.
  • Assess for any other possible source of harmful/painful stimuli or irritant if symptoms have not resolved.
  • If you are not able to promptly resolve symptoms on your own, call your healthcare provider for further assistance or go to your nearest emergency room.

IMPORTANT: Tell hospital staff that you may have dysreflexia, need your blood pressure checked, need to remain sitting up, and need cause of the problem sought.