Seizures: A Rare Presentation of Autonomic Dysreflexia in a Young Adult with Complete Spinal Cord Injury.

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Publication Date



DOI: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2021.07.046


BACKGROUND: Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) is a common complication for individuals with cervical or upper-mid thoracic spinal cord injury (SCI). It is a life-threatening emergency; however, it is rarely encountered by many emergency physicians, thus, ongoing awareness of the topic is necessary.

CASE REPORT: An 18-year-old man with cervical spinal cord injury presented to the Emergency Department with headache, nausea, elevated blood pressure, and seizures. He was treated with antiepileptics and transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). The PICU care team recognized AD as the cause of the seizure, secondary to a clogged suprapubic catheter causing overdistension of his bladder. Once replaced, over 1 liter of urine drained from his bladder and his autonomic symptoms resolved. He became hypotensive and required fluid resuscitation, but no further seizures occurred. Why Should an Emergency Physician Be Aware of This? Although rare, AD can result in seizures, intracerebral hemorrhage, or even death if not recognized or treated appropriately. Emergency physicians should recognize headaches, facial flushing, and sweating as early symptoms of AD, along with acute elevation in blood pressure (noting that baseline blood pressure may be lower in individuals with SCI). Management involves evaluating and treating noxious stimuli below the level of neurologic injury. Symptom management alone, without resolution of the underlying issue, can add to morbidity and mortality.

Journal Title

The Journal of emergency medicine





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Autonomic dysreflexia; Hypertensive emergency; Seizure; Spinal cord injury; Urinary retention

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