Vancouver New research from the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation may help explain why people with spinal cord injury (SCI) have a higher risk of developing heart disease.
Damage to the autonomic nervous system is a key predictor of cardiovascular risk, researcher Rianne Ravensbergen told the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2011, co-hosted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society.
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. However, for people with SCI, says Ravensbergen, a PhD candidate supervised by Dr. Victoria Claydon in the cardiovascular physiology laboratory at Simon Fraser University, exercise is only part of the story. "In this specific group we should also be looking at whether they have autonomic dysfunction, because this causes a higher risk for heart disease."
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.
Cardiovascular disease accounts for 30 percent of all deaths in Canada. For those with spinal cord injury almost 85,000 Canadians heart disease tends to develop earlier in life, even in those with a healthy lifestyle. "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," says Ravensbergen, adding that her findings may help explain this disconnect.
In her study, Ravensbergen assessed 20 people with spinal cord injury an
|Contact: Amanda Bates|
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada