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After a Spinal Cord Injury: Cardiovascular System Changes (7578)

After a Spinal Cord Injury: Cardiovascular System Changes (7578) - Clinical Hub, Patient Education, Health and Nutrition Facts For You, Neuro, Rehab


After a Spinal Cord Injury: Cardiovascular System Changes

After a spinal cord injury, there are changes
that happen in your circulatory system.
Your heart rate will be slower and your
blood pressure will be lower. The blood
flow in your body slows down, especially in
your legs. Normally, when a person walks,
the muscles in the legs push against the
blood vessels helping the blood to flow back
up to the heart. This does not happen when
the legs cannot move.
Edema: Edema is another name for
swelling. Your legs and feet may get
swollen by the end of the day. This happens
because the muscles in the legs are not
pumping the blood back to the heart so fluid
collects in the lower legs and feet.
Signs of edema are:
ξ Pressure indentation from shoes and
ξ Increase in your weight
ξ Less urine output

If your legs and feet are swollen, you can:
ξ Wear T.E.D. stockings (compression
stockings). The best time to put
T.E.D. stockings on is early in the
morning before your legs or feet are
ξ Raise your legs on pillows in bed so
they are higher than your heart
ξ Raise the leg rests on your
ξ Watch your salt intake

If you have swelling, your shoes, socks or
T.E.D. stockings may become tight so you
will need to check your skin for redness or
skin breakdown. If you have any signs of
skin redness or breakdown, call your doctor.

Orthostatic Hypotension: This happens
because there is a quick drop in your blood
pressure when you sit, stand or change
positions. It occurs most often when you
first get up in your wheelchair or on a tilt
table. You may feel dizzy, lightheaded or
feel like you are going to faint.

To stop this from happening, you can:
ξ Wear T.E.D. stockings and/or Ace®
wraps and an abdominal binder
before getting out of bed
ξ Sit or stand slowly
ξ If you’re in bed, raise the head of the
bed slowly to an upright position
ξ Sit in an upright position for about 5
minutes before getting into your

If you are in a wheelchair, have someone tilt
the wheelchair back until your head and
neck are almost parallel to the floor. Once
you feel better, gradually come back to a
sitting position. This will help raise your
blood pressure and the faint feeling will go

.Temperature Regulation: A person that
does not have a spinal cord injury is able to
keep their body temperature at about 98.6°F.
When it’s hot, their body cools off when
they sweat. When it is cold, they shiver
which helps keep the body warm. When a
person has a spinal cord injury, their body
temperature will change based on the
temperature of the environment.
Hot Weather: The paralyzed part of your
body does not sweat so you can easily
overheat on a hot humid day, when sitting in
a hot car too long or if you have too many
blankets on.

Signs that you are overheated:
ξ Skin feels hot, dry and appears pink
or red
ξ High body temperature
ξ Pulse is fast and may be weak and
ξ Feel dizzy
ξ Feel weak
ξ Headache
ξ Feel sick to your stomach

Things you can do to help prevent getting
ξ Stay out of direct sunlight
ξ Wear light-weight clothes
ξ Wear a hat
ξ Drink plenty of water
ξ Place a cold wet towel around the
back of your neck
ξ Bring a spray bottle to spray water
on your body to cool off

If you get overheated:
ξ Get out of the sun or hot room
ξ Go to a cool place
ξ Drink plenty of water; do not drink
fruit juices, alcohol or caffeine
ξ Sponge off with cool water; shower
if possible
ξ Lay down until you feel better
ξ Go to the hospital if you do not to
feel better

Cold Weather: The paralyzed part of your
body does not shiver so your body can get
too cold. Your feet and fingers can get
frostbitten. You may get too cold if you are
out in cold weather without warm clothes,
sit in a cold car too long or from being in
cold water for too long.

Signs that you are too cold:
ξ Drop in body temperature
ξ Cold, red or pale skin
ξ Fast heart rate
ξ Slow breathing
ξ Confusion
ξ May feel irritable
ξ Loss of interest
ξ Slow, slurred speech
ξ Feel tired
ξ Clumsy movements

Things you can do to prevent getting too
ξ Do not stay in cold weather or cold
places too long
ξ Dress warm; layer clothing
ξ Wear warm socks
ξ Winter jacket
ξ Wear a hat
ξ Wear gloves or mittens
ξ Wear boots or shoes
ξ Drink warm fluids

If you get too cold, you can do the
ξ Go to a warm place
ξ If your clothes are wet, take them off
ξ Dry your body if it’s wet
ξ Put on layers of warm clothes
ξ Put on a hat
ξ Cover up with blankets
ξ Place a heating pad (set on low heat)
or warm compresses on your chest,
stomach, groin or neck; use towel
between pad/compresses and your
ξ Take your temperature
ξ Go to the hospital if your body
temperature is low or if your
symptoms do not get better

Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 11/2016 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing HF#7578.