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 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. Whether an increased risk of heart disease is truly due to the spinal cord injury or related to patient characteristics after such injury remains to be sorted out.
"This made-in-Canada research will aid people with spinal cord injury both in this country and across the globe," says Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson Dr. Beth Abramson. "It will be exciting to pursue this entirely new avenue, which will hopefully allow clinicians to streamline efforts to prevent heart disease in this group of patients."
People with spinal cord injury are normally tested for motor and sensory damage, but not for damage to the autonomic pathways, which run along the spinal cord, says Ravensbergen. "SCI in humans is never clear-cut. We never exactly know which pathways are affected. We don't really take into consideration how control of the cardiovascular system is affected," she explains.
Further studies are necessary to investigate the role that autonomic nerves play, how to better measure and improve autonomic function and, ultimately, the best ways to prevent heart disease, she adds.
Ravensbergen says this research could further help inform other autonomic dysfunction disorders and their relationship to heart health.
Statements and conclusions of study authors are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect Foundation or CCS policy or position. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada and the Canadian Cardiovascular Society make no representation or warranty as to their accuracy or reliability.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation (heartandstroke.ca), a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke and reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the promotion of healthy living, and advocacy.
For more information and/or interviews, contactAmanda Bates
Further reports about: > Bird Communication > Canadian Light Source > Foundation > SCI > blood vessel > cardiovascular disease > cardiovascular system > glucose tolerance > healthy life > healthy lifestyle > heart disease > spinal > spinal cord > spinal cord injury > stroke > vascular disease > vascular system
Spread of deadly eye cancer halted in cells and animals
13.11.2018 | Johns Hopkins Medicine
Breakthrough in understanding how deadly pneumococcus avoids immune defenses
13.11.2018 | University of Liverpool
Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.
Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...
Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.
In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...
On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.
When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure
Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...
Physicists at ETH Zurich demonstrate how errors that occur during the manipulation of quantum system can be monitored and corrected on the fly
The field of quantum computation has seen tremendous progress in recent years. Bit by bit, quantum devices start to challenge conventional computers, at least...
09.11.2018 | Event News
06.11.2018 | Event News
23.10.2018 | Event News
13.11.2018 | Life Sciences
13.11.2018 | Life Sciences
13.11.2018 | Awards Funding