Autonomic Dysreflexia – Symptoms and Causes



  • The rise in blood pressure causes a pounding headache
  • The heart rate slows
  • There is flushing and redness of the skin above the level of the spinal cord injury where the blood vessels are widened
  • The skin is cold below the level of the injury, where the blood vessels remain narrow
  • The body’s response to the rise in blood pressure can cause profuse sweating, goosebumps, nausea, nasal congestion, blurred vision, shortness of breath, and anxiety or a sense of apprehension
  • Some or all of the symptoms may be present

Causes Of Autonomic Dysreflexia

Episodes of AD can be triggered by many potential causes.  Any painful or irritating stimulus below the level of the injury can cause an episode of AD.  However, bladder problems are by far the most common cause, followed by bowel impaction.
The following events or conditions are some things that can cause episodes of AD.

  • Bladder distension
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Bladder calculi (stones)
  • Detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia
  • Epididymitis or scrotal compression
  • Bowel impaction
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Gastro-colic irritation
  • Gallstones
  • Invasive surgery or procedures
  • Gastric ulcers or gastritis
  • Constrictive clothing
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Ejaculation
  • Menstruation
  • Pregnancy, especially labor and delivery
  • Pressure ulcers
  • Ingrown toenails
  • Burns or sunburn
  • Blisters
  • Insect bites
  • Fractures or other trauma

In fact, anything that causes pain or irritation below the level of the spinal cord lesion.