Cardiovascular disease in spinal cord injury: an overview of prevalence, risk, evaluation, and management

Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2007 Feb;86(2):142-52. doi: 10.1097/PHM.0b013e31802f0247.


Cardiovascular disease is a growing concern for the spinal cord-injured (SCI) population. For long-term SCI, morbidity and mortality from cardiovascular causes now exceeds that caused by renal and pulmonary conditions, the primary causes of mortality in previous decades. Although risk estimates commonly used for ambulatory individuals have not been established from follow-up studies in SCI, nearly all risk factors tend to be more prevalent in SCI subjects compared with ambulatory subjects. These risks include a greater prevalence of obesity, lipid disorders, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. Daily energy expenditure is significantly lower in SCI individuals, not only because of a lack of motor function, but also because of a lack of accessibility and fewer opportunities to engage in physical activity. Autonomic dysfunction caused by SCI is also associated with several conditions that contribute to heightened cardiovascular risk, including abnormalities in blood pressure, heart rate variability, arrhythmias, and a blunted cardiovascular response to exercise that can limit the capacity to perform physical activity. Thus, screening, recognition, and treatment of cardiovascular disease should be an essential component of managing individuals with SCI, and judicious treatment of risk factors can play an important role in minimizing the incidence of cardiovascular disease in these individuals. This article reviews the cardiovascular consequences of chronic SCI, including the prevalence of cardiovascular disease and risk factors unique to these individuals, and provides a synopsis of management of cardiovascular disease in this population.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • Diabetes Complications / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Complications / etiology
  • Exercise Test
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / epidemiology
  • Inflammation / etiology
  • Lung Diseases
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology