What Is Dysautonomia?


What is dysautonomia?

Dysautonomia is a disorder that affects the functioning of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and may include the failure of the sympathetic or parasympathetic components of the autonomic nervous system. It can also involve an overreaction of the autonomic nervous system.

What is the autonomic nervous system?

The autonomic nervous system is part of the body’s nervous system that controls the internal organs. It controls involuntary actions such as heart rate, narrowing and widening of blood vessels, body temperature, digestion, sexual arousal, blood pressure, pupil dilation and breathing. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are both involuntary. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the function of organs and the parasympathetic nervous system slows down bodily processes.

What are the characteristics of dysautonomia?

Dysautonomia involves a malfunction of either the sympathetic autonomic nervous system (SANS) or the parasympathetic autonomic nervous system (PANS). It can be localized (e.g., complex regional pain syndrome) or generalized (e.g., widespread involvement of the autonomic nervous system). It can be acute and reversible (e.g., Guillian-Barre syndrome), or it can be chronic and progressive.

This disorder can be serious, continual, temporary or progressive. Dysautonomia can range from minor to life-threatening and is often referred to as autonomic neuropathy. Primary dysautonomia can be inherited or can result from a degenerative disease. Secondary dysautonomia results from another condition or injury.

Types of dysautonomia

  • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
  • Neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS)
  • Multiple system atrophy (MSA)
  • Hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathies (HSAN)
  • Holmes-Adie syndrome (HAS)
  • Other (resulting from disease or damage to the body)


Symptoms of dysautonomia include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Impotence in men and vaginal dryness in women
  • Dizziness or fainting when standing (orthostatic hypotension)
  • Rapid pulse rate
  • Hypertension
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Digestive difficulties
  • Urinary problems
  • Vision problems
  • Tremors
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sluggish pupil reaction

Risk factors

Risk factors for developing dysautonomia include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Amyloidosis
  • Porphyria
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cancer
  • Traumatic brain injury
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