Autonomic Dysreflexia


Autonomic_dysreflexia5aWhat is AD?

  • It is a sudden and dangerous rise in blood pressure triggered by an exaggerated response to painful stimuli, below the level of spinal cord damage
  • If AD is not treated or the cause remains unresolved, then it could be fatal
  • AD can happen any time from the start of spinal paralysis. It happens in both complete and incomplete injuries but usually only affects those with an injury at the level T6 and above

ad-imageWhat happens to the body during an episode of AD?

  • severe pounding headache
  • flushed appearance of the skin above the level of injury
  • profuse sweating above the level of the lesion
  • nasal congestion
  • feeling unwell
  • blurred vision
  • increase in spasm
  • continued severe hypertension (raised blood pressure)

Common causes of Autonomic Dysreflexia (AD)

  • blocked catheter/over full bladder
  • constipation
  • a broken bone
  • ingrowing toenail
  • pressure ulcer
  • erection/ejaculation/emission
  • menstrual problems/gynae problems
  • pregnancy/labour

Treatment of Autonomic Dysreflexia (AD)

AD needs to be treated urgently because it can be fatal. It is important to find and treat the cause as soon as possible.

First things to do are:

  • Sit up to lower the blood pressure. Raise head to 90 degrees
  • If you can lower your legs, do so
  • Next, loosen or remove anything tight
  • Identify the cause. If you can, alert someone, if you can that you are having an AD attack, so that whatever is causing the problem can be located and removed or treated
  • Treat possible cause so that the pain stimulus can be removed
  • Medicate by taking medication prescribed for AD if you can’t initially find a cause
  • Seek prompt medical advice if the cause cannot be identified or the blood pressure cannot be controlled

IMPORTANT: Stay sitting up until blood pressure is normal.

Last updated: May 2020