Washington: Spinal cord injury patients could be at a higher risk of heart disease, a new research has suggested.
Damage to the autonomic nervous system is a key predictor of cardiovascular risk, said researcher Rianne Ravensbergen.
Heart disease after a SCI is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in this population. It is well known that regular exercise is beneficial for cardiovascular health.
In people with autonomic dysfunction due to SCI, they may remain at high risk of cardiovascular disease, even if they maintain a healthy lifestyle and exercise regularly, according to Ravensbergen.
“In this specific group we should also be looking at whether they have autonomic dysfunction, because this causes a higher risk for heart disease,” she said.
The autonomic system controls functions of the body that are automatic, or involuntary – such as activities of the bladder, bowel, gastrointestinal tract, liver, heart, and blood vessels.
After SCI the autonomic nerves in the spinal cord can be damaged, leading to widespread abnormalities in autonomic function, and, of particular relevance to Ravensbergen`s work, abnormal control of the heart and blood vessels.
In her study, Ravensbergen assessed 20 people with spinal cord injury and 14 able-bodied controls to determine their risk for cardiovascular disease, including measurements for glucose tolerance, body mass index (BMI), body fat and abdominal fat. Those with SCI had decreased glucose tolerance and increased total and abdominal fat.
Ravensbergen then divided the SCI group into two subgroups: people with autonomic dysfunction and those without. While both groups had high cholesterol, she was surprised to find that those with autonomic dysfunction had problems with blood sugar. “These people are in a pre-diabetic state, which elevates their risk for heart disease,” she says.
This study indicates that after the recovery period, there is value in screening the autonomic system to evaluate the cardiovascular system of spinal cord patients.
The study was presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2011.