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Heart Disease Risk with Spinal Cord Injury

Heart Disease Risk with Spinal Cord Injury

Did you know that an individual with a spinal cord injury may be at greater heart disease risk?

Why is there a higher risk of heart disease with spinal cord injury?

A new study through the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation seeks to answer this question.

According to this study, the answer may be related to the fact that a spinal cord injury (SCI) can disrupt the normal autonomic nervous pathways.

What Are Autonomic Nerve Pathways?

Autonomic pathways serve involuntary functions of the internal body. This may include parts of the body such as:

  • Lungs
  • Heart
  • Stomach and bowels
  • Bladder
  • Reproductive organs
  • Glands, including sweat glands

In other words, autonomic nerve pathways impact or touch all structures and functions within the body.

Heart Disease Risk and Spinal Cord Injury

The recent study regarding heart disease indicates that this impacts people living with spinal cord injuries disproportionately. Also, it may be more common in younger individuals with SCI as compared to the general population.

Researchers assessed a control group of 14 able-bodied persons as well as another group of 20 people living with a spinal cord injury. Next, they divided the group between those who experience autonomic pathway disruption with those who don’t.

Findings Show Higher Prediabetes Risk

Conclusive findings showed that both groups of people with spinal cord injury had high cholesterol. However, the group with autonomic nerve pathway disruption had considerably less glucose tolerance as well as greater overall fat and abdominal fat. This can induce a prediabetic state, which is a known risk factor for developing heart disease.

In addition, the SCI control group with autonomic pathway disruption showed less normal indicators of internal functioning overall. This happened even with those who had a healthy lifestyle. It remains inconclusive at this stage whether patients’ pattern of internal dysfunction is due solely to such disruption, or to patient characteristics after such an injury.

While there is clearly a requirement for more independent research, the study points to a directive. We need more thorough screenings for people living with a spinal cord injury, such as testing for autonomic nerve functioning.

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