Vascular dysfunctions following spinal cord injury

Popa, Constantin; Popa, Florian; Grigorean, Valentin Titus; Onose, Gelu; Sandu, Aurelia Mihaela; Popescu, Mihai; Burnei, Gheorghe; Strambu, Victor; Sinescu, Crina
July 2010
Journal of Medicine & Life;Jul-Sep2010, Vol. 3 Issue 3, p275
Academic Journal
The aim of this article is to analyze the vascular dysfunctions occurring after spinal cord injury (SCI). Vascular dysfunctions are common complications of SCI. Cardiovascular disturbances are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in both acute and chronic stages of SCI. Neuroanatomy and physiology of autonomic nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic, is reviewed. SCI implies disruption of descendent pathways from central centers to spinal sympathetic neurons, originating in intermediolateral nuclei of T1-L2 cord segments. Loss of supraspinal control over sympathetic nervous system results in reduced overall sympathetic activity below the level of injury and unopposed parasympathetic outflow through intact vagal nerve. SCI associates significant vascular dysfunction. Spinal shock occurs during the acute phase following SCI and it is a transitory suspension of function and reflexes below the level of the injury. Neurogenic shock, part of spinal shock, consists of severe arterial hypotension and bradycardia. Autonomic dysreflexia appears during the chronic phase, after spinal shock resolution, and it is a life-threatening syndrome of massive imbalanced reflex sympathetic discharge occurring in patients with SCI above the splanchnic sympathetic outflow (T5-T6). Arterial hypotension with orthostatic hypotension occurs in both acute and chronic phases. The etiology is multifactorial. We described a few factors influencing the orthostatic hypotension occurrence in SCI: sympathetic nervous system dysfunction, low plasma catecholamine levels, rennin-angiotensin-aldosterone activity, peripheral alpha-adrenoceptor hyperresponsiveness, impaired function of baroreceptors, hyponatremia and low plasmatic volume, cardiovascular deconditioning, morphologic changes in sympathetic neurons, plasticity within spinal circuits, and motor deficit leading to loss of skeletal muscle pumping activity. Additional associated cardiovascular concerns in SCI, such as deep vein thrombosis and long-term risk for coronary heart disease and systemic atherosclerosis are also described. Proper prophylaxis, including non-pharmacologic and pharmacological strategies, diminishes the occurrence of the vascular dysfunction following SCI. Each vascular disturbance requires a specific treatment.


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