Understanding Autonomic Dysreflexia

While autonomic dysreflexia is rare, it is a medical condition that could seriously affect those with spinal cord injuries.

What is autonomic dysreflexia? Click to read more about the condition and how those with spinal cord injuries are affected.

After an SCI diagnosis, a person may be aware of common aftermaths such as pressure sores, muscle spasms and difficulty with temperature regulation. As something as rare as autonomic dysreflexia, the person may not know all the possibilities.

Also known as AD, the condition can cause severe, sudden spikes in blood pressure along with a worrying low heart rate, potentially leading to a cardiac arrest, stroke, or even a seizure, requiring immediate medical assistance should it cause an issue. Learning to live with spinal cord injury is a slow and steady process. Understanding autonomic dysreflexia is crucial considering its quick and reactive nature when and if it occurs in someone with an SCI.

Who is most likely to experience autonomic dysreflexia?

The severity of experiencing this medical condition depends on where the spinal cord injury is. If at T6 or above, the chance of autonomic dysreflexia is sadly incredibly high. From T6 to T10, there is a moderate risk of developing the condition. Anyone below T10 is at minimal, if any, risk.

The common causes of autonomic dysreflexia

There are numerous causes of autonomic dysreflexia, and the route of the severe outcome is often something minor. Essentially, anything new below the level of injury, such as a blocked catheter, will encourage the body’s autonomic system to overreact, raising your blood pressure and lowering your heart rate.

Bowel struggles

Like most spinal cord injuries, bowel problems are a common theme when living with the condition. Dealing with issues such as constipation, haemorrhoids, passing big stools and even bloating can trigger autonomic dysreflexia. While many related issues get handled at home, it is important to consider medical assistance when experiencing autonomic dysreflexia, especially if prone to infection.

Bladder issues

The most common cause of autonomic dysreflexia is dealing with bladder issues. This can be resolved quickly if a carer or medical professional takes the time to inspect issues that occur. It could be something as simple as a full or disconnected catheter bag or any problem that prevents urine flow.

Following a dedicated routine when emptying a catheter can limit the chances of severe autonomic dysreflexia. More damaging bladder concerns, such as kidney stones or general infections, may require more serious medical attention, but keep in mind that some medical tests can also be the root cause of AD, so it is crucial to chat with a doctor beforehand.

Tips to prevent autonomic dysreflexia

Due to AD being such a life-threatening condition, there is difficulty in coming to terms with the problem head-on. However, there are numerous helpful precautions to consider to help minimise the impact.

  • Follow a routine: keep track of regular bladder emptying and catheter maintenance.
  • Check catheters: Following a routine, catheter maintenance can be a much smoother process. Inspect the catheter regularly to ensure it isn’t too full or the tubes are not kinked. It’s good to practise to know if it is functioning efficiently.
  • Limit bladder infections: it’s not so easy to prevent bladder infections when dealing with spinal cord injury, since they are so difficult to avoid for catheter users. However, keeping catheters clean and drinking lots of water can help avoid UTIs from happening.
  • Regular bowel movements: Regular bowel activity is crucial for everyone, especially those preventing autonomic dysreflexia. Constipation can be a key component in causing AD, but rough digital stimulation can also take effect. Medical experts can help advise on the best methods to progress.
  • Look after your skin: spinal cord injury can encourage pressure sores to form, causing AD and other painful skin issues. A carer or medical professional can check all areas of the body below the level of spinal cord injury for skin-related issues.

Support from Aspire Law

Experiencing autonomic dysreflexia can be difficult, but keeping track of its effects and seeking the best medical care can help limit the struggles. If your spinal injury was caused by an accident that was not your fault, then you are well within your rights to look for compensation.

The majority of our clients choose to be represented on a “no win no fee” basis, which means that if your claim is unsuccessful, there is no financial risk to you. While money can’t turn back the clock, it can help fund rehabilitation and further support. Get in touch with us today to learn more.