Life-threatening, uninhibited sympathetic response of nervous system
to noxious stimulus after spinal cord injury at T7 or above
• AUTONOMIC DYSREFLEXIA
• Paroxysmal hypertension (sudden
periodic elevated blood pressure,
systolic over 140 mm Hg
and diastolic over 90 mm Hg)
• Bradycardia or tachycardia
(pulse less than 60 or more
than 100 beats/min) Diaphoresis
• Red splotches (vasodilation)
on skin above injury
• Pallor below injury
• Diffuse headache not confined
to any nerve distribution area
• Bladder distention
• Bowel distention
• Lack of caregiver and patient
• Conjunctival congestion
• Horner’s syndrome (contracted
pupils, partial ptosis, enophthalmos,
loss of sweating on
affected side of face
• Pilomotor reflex
• Blurred vision
• Chest pain
• Metallic taste
• Nasal congestion
• Bladder distension
• Bowel distension
• Deficient caregiver knowledge
ASSESSMENT FOCUS (Refer to comprehensive assessment parameters.)
• Cardiac function
The patient will
• Have cause of dysreflexia identified and corrected.
• Experience cardiovascular stability as evidenced by ____ systolic
range, ____ diastolic range, and _____ heart rate range.
• Avoid bladder distention and urinary tract infection (UTI).
• Have no fecal impaction.
• Have no noxious stimuli in environment.
• State relief from symptoms of dysreflexia.
• Have few, if any, complications.
• Maintain normal bladder elimination pattern.
• Maintain normal bowel elimination pattern.
• Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of dysreflexia and will
describe care measures.
• Experience few or no dysreflexic episodes.
• Deficient patient knowledge
• Skin irritation
• Risk management
SUGGESTED NOC OUTCOMES
Neurologic Status; Neurologic Status: Autonomic; Sensory Function
Status; Vital Signs Status
INTERVENTIONS AND RATIONALES
Determine: Assess for signs of dysreflexia (especially severe hypertension)
to detect condition so that prompt treatment may be initiated.
Take vital signs frequently to monitor effectiveness of prescribed
Perform: Place patient in a sitting position or elevate the head of bed
to aid venous drainage from brain, lower intracranial pressure, and
temporarily reduce blood pressure.
Ascertain and correct probable cause of dysreflexia. Check for
bladder distention and patency of catheter. If necessary, irrigate
catheter with small amount of solution, or insert a new catheter
immediately. A blocked urinary catheter can trigger dysreflexia.
Check for fecal mass in rectum. Apply dibucaine ointment (Nupercainal)
or another product, as ordered, to anus and 1 (2.5 cms) into
rectum 10–15 min before removing impaction. Failure to use
ointment may aggravate autonomic response.
Check environment for cold drafts and objects putting pressure on
patient’s skin, which could act as dysreflexia stimuli. Send urine for
culture if no other cause becomes apparent to detect possible UTI.
Implement and maintain bowel and bladder elimination programs
to avoid stimuli that could trigger dysreflexia
Inform: Instruct patient, family members, or caregiver about dysreflexia,
including its causes, signs and symptoms, and care measures to prepare
them to handle possible emergencies related to condition.
Attend: Reassure patient that everyone involved in his or her care
will be instructed in management of this problem to relieve anxiety.
Manage: If hypertension persists despite other measures, administer
ganglionic blocking agent, vasodilator, or other medication as ordered.
Drugs may be required if hypertension persists or if noxious stimuli
can’t be removed.
SUGGESTED NIC INTERVENTIONS
Dysreflexia Management; Neurologic Monitoring; Surveillance; Temperature
Management; Vital Signs Monitoring
Karlsson, A. K. (2006). Autonomic dysfunction in spinal cord injury: Clinical
presentation of symptoms and signs. Progress in Brain Research, 152, 1–8