What is Dysautonomia?
Dysautonomia refers to a disorder of autonomic nervous system (ANS) function that generally involves failure of the sympathetic or parasympathetic components of the ANS, but dysautonomia involving excessive or overactive ANS actions also can occur. Dysautonomia can be local, as in reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or generalized, as in pure autonomic failure. It can be acute and reversible, as in Guillain-Barre syndrome, or chronic and progressive. Dysautonomia also can occur as a primary condition or in association with degenerative neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease.
Hallmarks of generalized dysautonomia due to sympathetic failure are impotence (in men) and a fall in blood pressure during standing (orthostatic hypotension). Excessive sympathetic activity can present as hypertension or a rapid pulse rate.
Over 70 million people in the world are living with one or more forms of Dysautonomia. Dysautonomia is a word used to describe a group of neurological disorders that involve the autonomic nervous system such as Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS), Orthostatic Intolerance (OI), Autoimmune Ganglionopathy (AAG), Pure Autonomic Failure (PAF), and Multiple System Atrophy (MSA) and others.
Otherwise healthy patients with POTS and NCS, the two most common forms of dysautonomia, often have periods of time when symptoms flare which can be debilitating and other periods of time when they are able to be fairly active and manage symptoms well with proper medical care, understanding of the disorders and a good treatment plan.
Those that develop dysautonomia secondary to other conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Chiari Malformation, Parkinson's, Diabetes, Autonomic Neuropathy, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Celiac Disease, Sjogren's Syndrome, Mitochondrial Disorders and Mast Cell Activation Disorders often struggle with managing symptoms for many years. Symptoms tend to wax and wane over time but rarely subside as happens with some teens who develop POTS after contracting an infection.
Symptoms may affect every system in the body, are unpredictable, may come and go and can be debilitating at times or permanently disabling to some.
Symptoms of Dysautonomia often include:
Bradycardia (Abnormally Low Heart Rate) or Tachycardia (Abnormally High Heart Rate)
Extremely Low Blood Pressure
Narrow Pulse Pressure
Frequent, Large Swings in Heart Rate or Blood Pressure
Orthostatic Intolerance or Exercise Intolerance
Frequent Bouts of Dehydration
Dizziness or Vertigo
Syncope (losing consciousness) or Near Syncope
Low Blood Volume
Frequent Nausea and GI Motility Issues
Shortness of Breath
Frequent Migraines or Headaches
Hypersensitivity to Light, Sound, Touch, or Smell
Difficulty Regulating Temperature
There is currently no cure for Dysautonomia, but ongoing research is building a better understanding of many forms of dysautonomia and offering new hope.
Image source: Low, P. Overview of the Autonomic Nervous System. In Merck Manual online. Retrieved from https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/autonomic-nervous-system/overview-of-the-autonomic-nervous-system