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Medical emergency: rash, headache and spinal cord injury


A 49-year-old consultant medical oncologist, with a medical history of complete T5 spinal cord injury (March 1992) and long-term paralysis from the chest down, presented with shingles affecting the T7 dermatome. He also had a dull frontal headache, a feeling of agitation and increased blood pressure of 135/90 on a home blood pressure machine (higher than his usual blood pressure of 90/70). Having been taught about autonomic dysreflexia at the time of his initial spinal cord injury, he self-diagnosed autonomic dysreflexia caused by the noxious stimulus of shingles below his level of spinal cord injury. He self-administered a nifedipine 5 mg sublingual capsule to decrease his blood pressure before urgently seeing his general practitioner. Treatment of the shingles with acyclovir and analgesia successfully managed the problem and avoided hospital admission. This case highlights key aspects in treating autonomic dysreflexia and the value of doctor–patient partnership in doing so.

  • prehospital
  • medical management
  • headache (including migraines)
  • hypertension

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