Autonomic dysreflexia following acute myelitis due to neuromyelitis optica

Cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction is a relatively common secondary complication of tetraplegia. In addition to low baseline arterial blood pressure, tetraplegics can develop sudden-onset hypertensive episodes associated with a variety of symptoms and signs (so-called autonomic dysreflexia). Unfortunately, this potentially life-threatening medical entity is often overlooked and mismanaged. With this, a case of typical presentation of autonomic dysreflexia in an individual with acute severe cervical spinal cord impairment due to neuromyelitis optica (NMO) is reported and discussed.

A 60-year-old, Asian woman developed a rapidly progressive tetraplegia associated with neurogenic bladder and bowel, and cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction due to NMO. In addition to low baseline blood pressure and orthostatic hypotension, the patient developed episodes of autonomic dysreflexia during the acute stage following C2 motor complete tetraplegia. The episodes of autonomic dysreflexia resolved after fecal disimpaction. Her blood pressure stabilized after fecal disimpaction, even though occasional, milder episodes of autonomic dysreflexia occurred during bowel routines in the acute and subacute stages after tetraplegia. Her cardiovascular function normalized as she also regained motor and sensory function in the chronic stage after initial flare of NMO.

This case report illustrates a clinically relevant, but still under-recognized cardiovascular autonomic complication of severe, cervical or high-thoracic spinal cord impairment due to NMO. In addition to low baseline blood pressure and orthostatic hypotension, the patient developed episodes of autonomic dysreflexia during the acute stage after tetraplegia. Autonomic dysreflexia requires early diagnosis and proper treatment in order to prevent severe complications or death. Greater awareness of this potentially life-threatening cardiovascular emergency of spinal cord impairment is needed among patients, caregivers, and healthcare professionals, including neurologists.

Multiple sclerosis and related disorders. 2018 Apr 16 [Epub ahead of print]

Julio C Furlan

Lyndhurst Centre, Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, University Health Network, 520 Sutherland Drive, Toronto, Ontario, M4G 3V9, Canada; Department of Medicine, Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, University of Toronto, Canada. Electronic address: .

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