Cardiovascular Autonomic Dysfunction in Spinal Cord Injury: Epidemiology, Diagnosis, and Management

Jill M. Wecht, Noam Y. Harel, James Guest, Steven C. Kirshblum, Gail F. Forrest, Ona Bloom, Alexander V. Ovechkin, Susan Harkema

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Spinal cord injury (SCI) disrupts autonomic circuits and impairs synchronistic functioning of the autonomic nervous system, leading to inadequate cardiovascular regulation. Individuals with SCI, particularly at or above the sixth thoracic vertebral level (T6), often have impaired regulation of sympathetic vasoconstriction of the peripheral vasculature and the splanchnic circulation, and diminished control of heart rate and cardiac output. In addition, impaired descending sympathetic control results in changes in circulating levels of plasma catecholamines, which can have a profound effect on cardiovascular function. Although individuals with lesions below T6 often have normal resting blood pressures, there is evidence of increases in resting heart rate and inadequate cardiovascular response to autonomic provocations such as the head-up tilt and cold face tests. This manuscript reviews the prevalence of cardiovascular disorders given the level, duration and severity of SCI, the clinical presentation, diagnostic workup, short-and long-term consequences, and empirical evidence supporting management strategies to treat cardiovascular dysfunction following a SCI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)550-559
Number of pages10
JournalSeminars in Neurology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2020


  • blood pressure
  • heart rate
  • paraplegia
  • parasympathetic
  • sympathetic
  • tetraplegia


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