Spinal cord injury (SCI) leads to profound haemodynamic changes. Constant outflows from the central autonomic pattern generators modulate the activity of the spinal sympathetic neurons. Sudden loss of communication between these centers and the sympathetic neurons in the intermediolateral thoracic and lumbar spinal cord leads to spinal shock. After high SCI, experimental data demonstrated a brief hypertensive peak followed by bradycardia with escape arrhythmias and marked hypotension. Total peripheral resistance and cardiac output decrease, while central venous pressure remains unchanged. The initial hypertensive peak is thought to result from direct sympathetic stimulation during SCI and its presence is anaesthetic agent dependent. Hypotension improves within days in most animal species because of reasons not totally understood, which may include synaptic reorganization or hyper responsiveness of α receptors. No convincing data has demonstrated that the deafferented spinal cord can generate significant basal sympathetic activity. However, with the spinal shock resolution, the deafferented spinal cord (in lesions above T6) will generate lifethreatening hypertensive bouts with compensatory bradycardia, known as autonomic hyperreflexia (AH) after stimuli such as pain or bladder / colonic distension. AH results from the lack of supraspinal control of the sympathetic neurons and altered neurotransmission (e.g. glutamatergic) within the spinal cord. Despite significant progress in recent years, further research is necessary to fully understand the spectrum of haemodynamic changes after SCI.
Keywords: autonomic hyperreflexia, autonomic nervous system, blood pressure, heart rate, spinal cord injury
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