Autonomic dysreflexia: recognizing a common serious condition in patients with spinal cord injury.
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OBJECTIVE: To raise family physicians' awareness of autonomic dysreflexia (AD) in patients with spinal cord injury (SCI) and to provide some suggestions for intervention. SOURCES OF INFORMATION: MEDLINE was searched from 1970 to July 2011 using the terms autonomic dysreflexia and spinal cord injury with family medicine or primary care. Other relevant guidelines and resources were reviewed and used. MAIN MESSAGE: Family physicians often lack confidence in treating patients with SCI, see them as complex and time-consuming, and feel undertrained to meet their needs. Family physicians provide a vital component of the health care of such patients, and understanding of the unique medical conditions related to SCI is important. Autonomic dysreflexia is an important, common, and potentially serious condition with which many family physicians are unfamiliar. This article will review the signs and symptoms of AD and offer some acute management options and preventive strategies for family physicians. CONCLUSION: Family physicians should be aware of which patients with SCI are susceptible to AD and monitor those affected by it. Outlined is an approach to acute management. Family physicians play a pivotal role in prevention of AD through education (of the patient and other health care providers) and incorporation of strategies such as appropriate bladder, bowel, and skin care practices and warnings and management plans in the medical chart.
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