Autonomic hyperreflexia: A mortal danger for spinal cord-damaged women in labor

  • James A. McGregor
    Reprint requests: James A. McGregor, M.D.C.M., University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, 4200 E. 9th Ave., Box B198, Denver, Co 80262.
    Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, USA

    St. Mary-Corwin Hospital Pueblo, Colorado, USA
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  • James Meeuwsen
    Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver, USA

    St. Mary-Corwin Hospital Pueblo, Colorado, USA
    Search for articles by this author
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      Reproductive care of women with spinal cord damage demands knowledge of such women's reproductive potential and the specific complications to which these women are prone during pregnancy and childbirth, especially autonomic hyperreflexia. Fertility in cord-damaged women of reproductive age is generally undiminished as are libido, ability to have intercourse, and ability to bear children. Frequent complications of cord-damaged pregnant women include urinary tract infection, anemia, pressure sores, sepsis, unattended birth, and autonomic hyperreflexia. Autonomic hyperreflexia or autonomic dysreflexia occurs during labor in up to two thirds of women with cord lesions above T-6. Autonomic hyperreflexia results from noxious stimuli including distention of the bladder, cervix, or rectum, which evokes mass triggering of sympathetic and parasympathetic afferents that are uninhibited by supraspinal centers below the cord lesion. Autonomic hyperreflexia manifests itself with sudden onset of marked hypertension and headache during uterine contractions, as well as bradycardia or tachycardia, various cardiac dysrhythmias, and marked diaphoresis with piloerection and flushing above the level of the cord lesion. We describe the second reported occurrence of intraventricular hemorrhage due to autonomic hyperreflexia during labor and detail recommendations for anticipating and mitigating this potentially lethal complication of parturition in cord-damaged women. Pregnancy and parturition are best carried out with informed cooperation of the patient and of obstetric, cord rehabilitation, anesthetic, and nursing personnel.


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