Autonomic hyperreflexia, or Autonomic dysreflexia, is the result of a spinal cord injury (lesion) that may be life-threatening depending on its specific vertebral level and may develop suddenly. If left untreated, it can lead to seizures, kidney failure, hemorrhage of the retina, stroke or death. These symptoms are the direct result of prolonged severe high blood pressure, or hypertension. When a strong stimulus, such as an irritant of the bladder, bowel, or skin occurs below the location of the injury, it causes the blood vessels to constrict. The signal sent up the spinal cord to the brain in order for it to control the constriction cannot travel past the injury. An over-activity of the autonomic nervous system then causes a rise in blood pressure. Nerve receptors send a message to the brain to slow the heartbeat and the blood vessels above the injury expand, but the impulses to balance the pressure cannot reach below the injury.
Symptoms of autonomic hyperreflexia include excessive sweating, throbbing headache, nausea, slow pulse, stuffy nose, blotching of skin above the spinal injury and goosebumps below the injury. The first course of action is to quickly remove or treat the stimulus therefore allowing for the reflexive resolution of the hypertension. If this is not possible, emergency medical attention should be sought.
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