Autonomic consequences of spinal cord injury

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145 Scopus citations


Spinal cord injury (SCI) results not only in motor and sensory deficits but also in autonomic dysfunctions. The disruption of connections between higher brain centers and the spinal cord, or the impaired autonomic nervous system itself, manifests a broad range of autonomic abnormalities. This includes compromised cardiovascular, respiratory, urinary, gastrointestinal, thermoregulatory, and sexual activities. These disabilities evoke potentially life-threatening symptoms that severely interfere with the daily living of those with SCI. In particular, high thoracic or cervical SCI often causes disordered hemodynamics due to deregulated sympathetic outflow. Episodic hypertension associated with autonomic dysreflexia develops as a result of massive sympathetic discharge often triggered by unpleasant visceral or sensory stimuli below the injury level. In the pelvic floor, bladder and urethral dysfunctions are classified according to upper motor neuron versus lower motor neuron injuries; this is dependent on the level of lesion. Most impairments of the lower urinary tract manifest in two interrelated complications: bladder storage and emptying. Inadequate or excessive detrusor and sphincter functions as well as detrusor-sphincter dyssynergia are examples of micturition abnormalities stemming from SCI. Gastrointestinal motility disorders in spinal cord injured-individuals are comprised of gastric dilation, delayed gastric emptying, and diminished propulsive transit along the entire gastrointestinal tract. As a critical consequence of SCI, neurogenic bowel dysfunction exhibits constipation and/or incontinence. Thus, it is essential to recognize neural mechanisms and pathophysiology underlying various complications of autonomic dysfunctions after SCI. This overview provides both vital information for better understanding these disorders and guides to pursue novel therapeutic approaches to alleviate secondary complications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1419-1453
Number of pages35
JournalComprehensive Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014 American Physiological Society.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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