Dysautonomia is the malfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
Dysautonomia is an incurable illness experienced when the unconscious functions of the body like heart rate, blood pressure or digestion don't work properly. The result is chronic and debilitating weakness due to the body's inability to adjust to gravity.
Standing upright, climbing the stairs, waiting in line—these everyday actions are often beyond the reach of those living with Dysautonomia. Many are unable to go to work, attend school or even get out of bed without passing out. Although Dysautonomia affects up to three million Americans, it remains an invisible illness with little awareness. People go undiagnosed for years, feeling misunderstood.
What is the Autonomic Nervous System (Ans)?
The ANS controls the unconscious functions of the body, such as but not limited to: heart rate, blood pressure, adrenaline, digestion, temperature regulation, kidney function, and respiratory rate.
The ANS is composed of two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is commonly known as the “fight or flight” system, while the parasympathetic is known as the “rest and digest” system.
Less commonly known, the ANS, when functioning properly, enables our bodies to adjust to gravity upon upright posture. The ANS is incredible, communicating to organ systems so that blood & oxygen remain in the upper half of the body when we stand.
is dysautonomia rare?
Dysautonomia affects 70 million people worldwide. The most common form of Dysautonomia is Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS), which affects up to 3,000,000 Americans.
types of dysautonomia
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
POTS is estimated to impact 1 out of 100 American teenagers. It is estimated to affect up to 3,000,000 Americans of all ages. POTS can cause lightheadedness, palpitations, tremor, generalized weakness, blurred vision, exercise intolerance, and fatigue. Symptoms are exacerbated upon standing. Symptoms less influenced by posture include: bloating, nausea, abdominal pain, migraines, and sleep disturbances.
Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS) (sometimes diagnosed as Vasovagal Syncope)
NCS is caused by a failure of the ANS to adequately regulate the body's blood pressure and heart rate. "Syncope" is the medical term used to describe "fainting" or "passing out." When the ANS does not properly regulate blood pressure, it can cause a loss of blood supply to the brain, resulting in a loss of consciousness. Less discussed is the debilitating fatigue that precedes and follows these syncopal events. Often dismissed by uninformed physicians as "harmless," patients who experience syncope daily or multiple times per day lose their quality of life and independence. Some patients stop breathing upon syncope, causing convulsions. These patients appear to be having a seizure, while in reality they are convulsing due to lack of oxygen.
Baroreflexes, when working properly, protect the body from wide fluctuations in blood pressure. Baroreceptors send information via the glossopharyngeal and vagal nerves to the brain stem. Baroreflex Failure causes volatile blood pressure and heart rate. It is not uncommon for patients to experience supine (lying down) hypertension (high blood pressure) with orthostatic (upright) hypotension (low blood pressure).
Hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (hEDS): A Comorbid Condition
hEDS is not a type of Dysautonomia, but a genetic connective tissue disorder that exacerbates Dysautonomia symptoms. Patients typically present with joint hypermobility, frequent partial or full joint dislocations, and chronic pain. Less commonly known is the impact on blood vessels which are also composed of connective tissue. hEDS patients' blood vessels are too "elastic" in nature, exacerbating symptoms of blood pooling in the lower extremities of the body. It is not uncommon for these patients to live with orthostatic (upright) hypotension (low blood pressure) or experience frequent syncope due to poor blood vessel tone.