Autonomic dysreflexia is a medical emergency, characterised by the onset of acute hypertension in patients with spinal cord injuries above the level of T6. Bradycardia, vasodilation and sweating above the neurological level of injury are associated with compensatory parasympathetic activation.
A noxious stimulus below the level of injury leads to severe sympathetic activation and intense vasoconstriction below the level of the lesion. Examples of noxious stimuli include blocked urinary catheter, urinary tract infection or physical irritation or injury.
Pounding headache, worsening as BP rises
Sweating and flushing above level of injury and skin pallor below level of injury
Shortness of breath
Autonomic dysreflexia should be considered when managing a patient with SCI with
suspected cause when systolic blood pressure ≥20mmHg above resting level (if known) OR systolic blood pressure ≥160mmHg.
Transport the patient even if the symptoms are relieved as the cause of autonomic dysreflexia requires proper identification and management to prevent subsequent insult or injury.