Paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity may occur in patients with acute brain injury and is associated with physical disability, poor clinical outcomes, prolonged hospitalization, and higher health care costs.


To comprehensively review current literature and provide information about paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity for nurses.


An integrative literature review was conducted according to Whittemore and Knafl’s method. The search was conducted from October 2020 through January 2021. The main targets of the literature search were definition, incidence rate, causes, clinical characteristics, pathophysiology, diagnosis, and treatment of paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity in pediatric and adult patients. The results were reported using the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines.


The most characteristic clinical features of paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity are hypertension, tachycardia, tachypnea, hyperthermia, diaphoresis, and abnormal motor posturing. Reported incidence rates of paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity in patients with brain injury range from 8% to 33%. Various diagnostic criteria have been proposed; most are based on clinical symptoms. Ruling out other causes of the signs and symptoms of paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity is important because the signs and symptoms are nonspecific. The major goals of paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity management are avoidance of stimuli that may trigger a paroxysmal episode, inhibition of sympathetic overactivity, and prevention of damage to other organs.


Critical care nurses should be aware of the signs and symptoms of paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity in patients with acute brain injury. Early identification is important to ensure timely treatment for patients with paroxysmal sympathetic hyperactivity.

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