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J Spinal Cord Med. 2004;27 Suppl 1:S54-60.

Prevalence and etiology of autonomic dysreflexia in children with spinal cord injuries.

Author information

  • 1Shriners Hospitals for Children, Chicago, Illinois 60707, USA. khickey@shrinenet.org



To delineate the prevalence, etiologies, clinical manifestations, complications, and management of autonomic dysreflexia in individuals who sustained spinal cord injury (SCI) as children.


Retrospective chart review.


All individuals with > or = T6 SCI who were injured at 13 years of age or younger and who were cared for at one pediatric SCI program.


Outcome measures included prevalence, etiologic factors, and symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia as documented in both inpatient and outpatient records. Blood pressure and heart rate for observed episodes of autonomic dysreflexia also were recorded.


Of 121 participants who met the study criteria, 62 (51%) had experienced autonomic dysreflexia. The most common causes of dysreflexia were urologic (75%) and bowel impaction (18%), and the distribution of causative factors were similar in the 3 age ranges (0-5 years, 6-13 years, and 14-21 years). For all age groups, the most common symptoms were facial flushing (43%), headaches (24%), sweating (15%), and piloerection (14%). However, headaches (5%) and piloerection (0%), were uncommonly seen in children 5 years of age and younger. For observed episodes of autonomic dysreflexia, the majority (93%) demonstrated blood pressure elevations consistent with published guidelines, 50% experienced tachycardia, and 12.5% experienced bradycardia. Autonomic dysreflexia was significantly more common in individuals with complete lesions and in those who were injured between 6 and 13 years old compared with those injured at a younger age. Individuals with cervical injuries were not at significantly higher risk of dysreflexia than were those with upper thoracic level injuries. However, among individuals with complete lesions, autonomic dysreflexia was significantly more common in those with tetraplegia.


Autonomic dysreflexia has a similar prevalence in pediatric-onset SCI compared with the adult SCI population. Dysreflexia is diagnosed less commonly in infants and preschool-aged children, and these 2 populations may present with more subtle signs and symptoms.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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