Autonomic Nervous System Disorders

The autonomic nervous system is part of the nervous system that consists of three major components:

The sympathetic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system and the enteric nervous system also called the "brain in the gut". Integration of this system helps control and regulates basic body functions such as breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, sweating, sleep patterns or bowel function.

Autonomic Disorders & Dysautonomia

When the autonomic nervous system does not work properly, patients have an autonomic disorder or dysautonomia. Symptoms of this condition are often widespread and may include unexplained heart symptoms such as fainting, heart palpitations, light-headed spells, or orthostatic intolerance (symptoms on standing up). Gastrointestinal symptoms include severe diarrhea or constipation, early fullness or difficulty swallowing can be present. Genito-urinary symptoms manifest with bladder problems such as urinary retention or sexual dysfunction, while skin related symptoms present as excessive sweat or the lack of it. Body temperature dysregulation and skin mottling can be associated with overheating. Other frequent generalized symptoms include chronic fatigue, difficulty falling or staying asleep.

Causes of Autonomic Disease

Clinically Autonomic disorders can start abruptly or develop slowly over time. Many of these symptoms can worsen during stressful situations (psychological stress or illness), exercise, or even rest and can appear at any age.

Patients who are experiencing difficult to diagnose symptoms involving heart, bladder, bowel, sweating among or other symptoms may have an underlying autonomic disorder.

Causes of autonomic disorders can directly damage your autonomic nerves, such as diabetes; can increase your risk for autonomic dysfunction. Similarly, if you are being treated for cancer with a drug that is known to cause nerve damage, your doctor can make the diagnosis based on your signs and symptoms. Other well described causes of autonomic disorders include postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), autoimmune disorders such as Sjogren’s, paraneoplastic conditions, and genetic causes. Also, some neurodegenerative disorders such as Multisystem Atrophy (MSA) or Parkinson’s disease cause autonomic failure.

There are often many other associated illnesses coinciding with POTS. These include mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS), Ehlers-Danlos hypermobility (EDSh), post-viral syndrome or chronic fatigue. Many of these entities also do not have an underlying cause but are observed with greater frequency in POTS.

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