Dysautonomia, or autonomic dysfunction, is a medical term used to describe a condition that impairs various functions of the body as it brings changes to the autonomic nervous system. This system is composed of the brain and nerves, It is responsible for involuntary body movements such as heartbeat, breath control, temperature control and blood pressure.
Dysautonomia alters the autonomic nervous system giving an opposite response to what is expected. To control of the response of ”flight or fright” in case of an attack, the normal response of the body is an increased pulse, blood pressure and strength. But for the case of dysautonomia, the response will be inadequate and there will be a decreased heart rate, a drop in blood pressure, decreased strength, fatigue and drowsiness.
Symptoms of dysautonomia as not easily noticeable. However, one may experience dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, excessive fatigue, inability to stand, vision problems, vertigo as well as memory loss. The symptoms are also common in other conditions and they may be confused with other diseases.
This change does not have any specific causes but it can happen as a consequence of diseases such as diabetes, fibromyalagia, amyloidosis, porfiria, traumas and lesions of the central nervous system. The diagnosis is made through a clinical examination that is performed by a neurologist or a cardiologist, through genetic tests. Although there is no cure, therapies can be performed to relieve symptoms.
The symptoms of dysautonomia differ depending on the type and it may vary from one person to the other. However, as the diseases causes changes in the nervous system, it may lead to the emergence of signs and symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath suddenly
- Weakness of muscles
- Inability to stand
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision problems
- Memory loss
- Sudden mood swings
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty performing physical exercises
- Excessive tremors
Other symptoms of dysautonomia can only be identified using specific devices or tests such as pressure drop, increase or decrease in heart rate, problems maintaining body temperature and lowering blood sugar.
The diagnosis of this condition can be made by a neurologist or cardiologist by analysing these symptoms and performing complementary such as genetic tests that serve to identify changes in the genes of the body.
Dysautonomia can attack people of any age, gender or race but some types are more common in women, such as postural orthostatic taquicardia syndrome. The cause of this change is not well defined but it may arise as a result of other diseases such as diabetes, amyloidosis, fibromyalgia, multiple myeloma, porphyria, trauma and lesions in the central nervous system.
Other situations that lead to the onset of dysautonomia are excessive consumption of alcohol and taking of certain medications such as antidepressants, antihypertensives, antipsychotics or antineoplastic drugs, though such cases are rare.
What are the types
Dysautonomia is a condition that causes changes in the autonomic nervous system and can appear in different ways, and the main types are:
- Postural orthostatic tancardia syndrome: This causes symptoms such as dizziness, increased heart beat, severe shortness of breath and chest pain. It mainly affects women who are under the age of 40.
- Neurocardiogenic syncope: This is the most common type and it causes symptoms such as constant fainting.
- Family dysautonomia: This is a very rare case and it only appears in people who are form the Asquenazejews descent.
- Multiple system atrophy: This is the most severe type and its symptoms are similar to those of Parkinson’s disease and they tend to worsen with time.
- Autonomic dysreflexia: It mainly affects people who have had some form of spinal injury.
Another type of dysautonomia is autonomic diabetic neuropathy. This one occurs due to changes caused by diabetes which affect nerves that control the heart, resulting to emergence of problems such as improper temperature regulation, blood glucose, blood pressure and poor bladder functioning. It can also cause erectile dysfunction.
How treatment is done
Dysautonomia is a serious disease with no cure and treatment is therefore based on supportive measures that relieve symptoms. These can be done through physiotherapy sessions which will strengthen the body movements and activities that involve speech therapy; that will be done when the patient presents difficulty in swallowing. Therapy with a psychologist can also be done to deal with this condition.
In some cases, as dysautonomia results in loss of balance and the doctor may recommend that the patient drinks more than 2 litres of water per day as well as consuming a diet with high salt content and use of medications such as fludrocortisone.