People with Spinal Cord Injuries must know the symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia (AD). Living with a spinal cord injury means that you lack movement and sensation below the level of injury. Without sensation, a person's body will alert you to pain and discomfort by using warning signs that are involuntary or automatic, like an increase in blood pressure, sweating, increased heart rate, and a change in the color of the skin. In other words, AD is an autonomic nervous symptom overreaction to an irritation that people with spinal cord injuries can’t feel.

What Triggers Autonomic Dysreflexia?
  1. Pain below the level of injury, like sitting on something or even having clothing bunched up underneath you. Get out of your wheelchair and check for objects or clothing that might be putting pressure on your backside while seated.
  2. A full bladder can trigger AD. If you do intermittent catheterization, empty your bladder. If you use a foley catheter, make sure they're in there is not a kink in the tubing, causing your bladder to become overstretched.
  3. You need to have a bowel movement. Make sure that you don’t need to use the bathroom. Make sure that you don’t have an impaction or any other bowel-related issues.
  4. If you have something very hot or very cold touching your skin, you can cause AD.

If you can eliminate the cause of the autonomic dysreflexia, the symptoms should subside quickly.

Symptoms of AD
  • High blood pressure
  • Sweating
  • Your face or any other body part turning red
  • Goosebumps
  • Blurry vision or dilated pupils
  • Nasal congestion
  • Muscle spasms
  • Increased or irregular heartbeat

Autonomic Dysreflexia can be life-threatening, so contact a healthcare professional or go to the nearest emergency room if your symptoms are extreme. You must know the signs of autonomic dysreflexia because you might need to explain the causes and risks to your health care provider.
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