After a spinal cord injury, blood pressure levels may fluctuate due to disrupted communication between the brain and body.
To help you understand how spinal cord injury affects blood pressure, this article will go over:
- what body systems control blood pressure
- symptoms of irregular blood pressure
- the best ways to manage changes in blood pressure after SCI
Let’s get started!
Changes in Blood Pressure After Spinal Cord Injury
Blood pressure is an involuntary function, meaning that the body regulates it without any conscious effort.
Involuntary functions are controlled by your autonomic nervous system, which can be divided into your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These two systems work together to ensure efficient use of your body’s energy reserves.
The sympathetic nervous system manages your body’s response to stress. When activated, the sympathetic nervous system will increase your sense of alertness, heart rate, and blood pressure.
Your parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for regulating your relaxation response. It opposes your sympathetic response and instead, causes your heart rate and blood pressure to decrease.
While your sympathetic nerve fibers are closely aligned with the spinal cord, the parasympathetic nerve fibers branch off the brain and are not affected by damage to the spinal cord.
Now that you understand what that blood pressure is regulated by the autonomic nervous system, let’s go over how spinal cord injury can disrupt autonomic functions.
Autonomic Dysreflexia and Blood Pressure
Autonomic dysreflexia is when your body’s autonomic nervous system functions overreact when stimulated.
Typically after an SCI, areas above your injury level may experience increased sympathetic tone (high blood pressure) while areas below your level of injury experience unopposed parasympathetic tone (low blood pressure).
Any sort of stimulation below your level of injury can trigger autonomic dysreflexia such as:
- A full bladder
- Extreme temperatures
- Tight clothes
- Menstrual cramps
- Sexual activity
Blood Pressure and Level of Injury
If you experience autonomic dysreflexia, blood pressure will increase above your level of injury.
This may result in increased sweating, feelings of anxiety, flushed skin, and tightness in the chest.
In contrast, areas below your level of injury may experience low blood pressure and decreased circulation due to lack of sympathetic tone.
These symptoms are most common in spinal cord injuries at or above the T6 level.
Managing Blood Pressure After Spinal Cord Injury
A big part of managing autonomic dysreflexia after spinal cord injury involves being mindful of your surroundings and avoiding things that can trigger drastic fluctuations in autonomic functions like blood pressure.
Some simple actions you can take to avoid fluctuations in blood pressure include:
- Being mindful of your bladder and bowel patterns and checking for kinks that may be clogging your catheter
- Trying to wear loose clothes that don’t add unnecessary pressure to the body. Be wary of hard or sharp objects like zippers that may rub against your skin.
- Performing daily skin inspections will help identify pressure sores or other forms of skin irritation early before they become problematic
- Applying topical medications like lidocaine gel or nitroglycerin paste. They can help relax your blood vessels, reduce pain, and slow down your heart rate.
Hopefully, this article helped you better understand why you’re experiencing fluctuations in blood pressure after spinal cord injury and how to manage it. Good luck!
Featured image: ©iStock.com/nensuria