" "

Autonomic dysreflexia

Autonomic dysreflexia is unique to spinal cord injury (SCI) and can affect any SCI person with a lesion above T6.  It is a potentially life-threatening condition and causes a sudden and severe rise in blood pressure, in addition to other symptoms. Those with a SCI at or above T6 can experience autonomic dysreflexia when there is a pain or discomfort below the level of their injury, even if the pain or discomfort cannot be felt in the usual way.

It requires immediate treatment!

Common symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia

In addition to a rise in blood pressure common symptoms are:

  • A darker change in skin tone above the level of the spinal cord injury, usually in the face, neck and uppers chest, that can appear patchy or blotchy.
  • Profuse sweating above the level of injury
  • Severe/ pounding headache
  • Pallor below the level of injury
  • Stuffy nose
  • Severe hypertension (very high blood pressure)
  • A tight sensation in the chest
  • Blurred vision
  • Very slow or fast heart rate

Common causes of autonomic dysreflexia

  • Distended Bladder
  • Bowel impaction
  • Skin damage, e.g., ingrown toenail, pressure ulcer, burns and scalds.
  • Sexual activity/ejaculation

More information

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms above and the cause can’t be found then this needs to be treated as a medical emergency.  Please call 999 to obtain emergency medical attention.

More information about AD can be found in our fact sheet – just click on the link on the right hand side of the page.