Headache Attributed to Autonomic Dysreflexia: Clinical Presentation, Pathophysiology, and Treatment

Curr Pain Headache Rep. 2019 Aug 27;23(11):80. doi: 10.1007/s11916-019-0818-5.


A patient presenting with marked elevation in blood pressure and concurrent headache often presents a diagnostic challenge for even the most seasoned clinician. When marked hypertension and headache occur in a patient with a history of upper spinal cord injury, the patient should be presumed to have autonomic dysreflexia until proven otherwise. Autonomic dysreflexia can at times trigger headaches, hypertension, and variations in pulse, as well other autonomic signs and symptoms. Autonomic dysreflexia is a medical emergency for which appropriate treatment may be life-saving. In this review, we address the historical origins, risk factors, pathophysiology, diagnostic criteria, clinical presentation, differential diagnosis, and treatment of headache attributed to autonomic dysreflexia. Included are two case presentations from the authors' clinic, which illustrate the diagnosis and treatment of headache attributed to autonomic dysreflexia.

Keywords: Autonomic dysfunction; Autonomic dysreflexia; Headache.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / complications*
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / diagnosis*
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Headache / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*