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Dysautonomia

Overview

Dysautonomia is not a specific medical diagnosis; the term is used to describe a wide range of autonomic nervous system disorders. The autonomic nervous system, or ANS, controls the cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal and metabolic systems. When something goes wrong, the symptoms can be incapacitating. Some disorders are related to underlying conditions like diabetes, Parkinson’s, Celiac disease, alcoholism and genetic disorders. Many types of ANS disorders are chronic and progressive, and some can be fatal.

  • Types

    Many types of dysautonomia exist. This list is not comprehensive, but some of the types include:

    • Autoimmune autonomic ganglionopathy
    • Baroreflex failure
    • Congenital central hypoventilation syndrome
    • Diabetic autonomic neuropathy
    • Familial dysautonomia
    • Guillain-Barre syndrome
    • Holmes-Adie syndrome 
    • Horner syndrome
    • Multiple system atrophy (MSA)
    • Neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS)
    • Non-familial dysautonomia
    • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
    • Pure autonomic failure
  • Symptoms

    • Drop in blood pressure when standing, often causing dizziness or fainting
    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Fast or slow heart rates
    • Nausea or gastrointestinal problems 
    • Trouble breathing or swallowing
    • Urinary dysfunction
    • Vision problems
    • Weakness

    Many symptoms of dysautonomia are not visible, which can lead to misdiagnoses.

  • Prevention

    one prevention method exists. Preventing controllable underlying disease or conditions, such as diabetes or alcoholism, can reduce the risk of dysautonomia.

  • Risk Factors

    Dysautonomia can develop as a result of a vitamin deficiency or after a major surgery, but in many cases it is related to an underlying condition, such as:

    • Alcoholism
    • Amyloidosis
    • Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), aka “Hughes syndrome”
    • Celiac disease
    • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
    • Chiari (Arnold-Chiari malformation)
    • Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)
    • Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
    • Delta storage pool deficiency
    • Diabetes or prediabetes
    • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS)
    • Mastocytosis or mast cell activation disorder (MCAD)
    • Mitochondrial diseases 
    • Paraneoplastic syndrome
    • Parkinson’s disease
    • Sarcoidosis
    • Sjögren’s syndrome
    • Toxicity from chemotherapy or heavy metal poisoning
  • Diagnosis

    A tilt-table test is the most common method used to diagnose dysautonomia. During this test, you are placed on a table that will gradually tilt upward while medical staff monitors your blood pressure, heart rate and other vital signs. You may be on the table for up to 90 minutes and, in some cases, you may be intravenously given a drug to encourage your body to respond to the test.

  • Treatment

    No cure exists for most types of dysautonomia. Treatment can involve medications, physical exercise, and increased fluid and sodium intake. Most treatment plans will be highly personalized and dependent on your specific underlying conditions. Your neurologist also may need to coordinate care with any other physicians from whom you are receiving treatment.

  • Follow-up Care

    In some cases, dysautonomia improves when the underlying disease that causes the condition is treated. Be sure to follow up with your physician and adhere to his or her directions for treatment. Patients with generalized dysautonomia need to work closely with a physician to manage their health, because central nervous system degeneration can lead to potentially deadly issues such as acute respiratory failure or pneumonia.

  • Why Choose UK HealthCare for Neuromuscular Disorders?

    If you or a loved one is living with a neuromuscular disorder, neuromuscular doctors with Kentucky Neuroscience Institute can offer the latest and most sophisticated care options. UK HealthCare’s ALS Multidisciplinary Clinic earned accreditation as a Certified Treatment Center of Excellence from the ALS Association. This honor is awarded to facilities that demonstrate competency meeting the clinical care and treatment standards set forth by the ALS Association. These facilities must also take part in ALS research and a comprehensive site review.

    Additionally, the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute is ranked 44th in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and our physicians are regularly named to the Best Doctors in America List.