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Brain & Nervous System Health Center

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Living With a Spinal Cord Injury - When to Call a Doctor

There may be a time when you have a medical emergency and need to contact a doctor.

Be prepared to call your spinal care injury provider,911, or other emergency services if you or the person with the spinal cord injury has the symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia, which causes sudden very high blood pressure. If it isn't treated promptly and correctly, it may lead to seizures, stroke, and even death. Symptoms include:

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  • A pounding headache.
  • A flushed face and/or red blotches on the skin above the level of spinal injury.
  • Sweating above the level of spinal injury.
  • Nasal stuffiness.
  • Nausea.
  • A slow heart rate (bradycardia).
  • Goose bumps below the level of spinal injury.
  • Cold, clammy skin below the level of spinal injury.

Call911or other emergency services if you fall or have another accident and you notice:

  • Swelling on a part of your body where you have no feeling or movement.
  • Increased muscle spasms or other signs of spasticity.

Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of a urinary tract infection. These include:

Depending on your level of injury, you may also feel burning while urinating and/or pain or discomfort in the lower pelvic area, belly, or lower back.

Call your doctor right away if you have symptoms of pneumonia. These include:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) to 106°F (41.1°C).
  • Shaking chills.
  • Cough that often produces colored mucus from the lungs. Mucus may be rust-colored or green or tinged with blood. Older adults may have only a slight cough and no mucus.
  • Rapid, often shallow, breathing.
  • Chest wall pain, often made worse by coughing or deep breathing.
  • Fatigue and feelings of weakness (malaise).
  • Increased muscle spasms or other signs of spasticity.

Call your doctor for an appointment if you have a pressure sore and:

  • The skin is broken.
  • The sore has increased in size or is draining more.
  • It has increased in redness, or black areas are starting to form.
  • It starts to smell bad, or the drainage becomes a greenish color.
  • You have a fever.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: March 17, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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