What is dysautonomia disorder?

If you’re looking for a topic that even people in the medical profession might not have heard of, then dysautonomia disorder (1) is the perfect subject. But what is it exactly? Well, let me try to explain without making your eyes glaze over with too much technical medical jargon (2).

The Autonomic Nervous System

First off, we need to talk about the autonomic nervous system (3). This system controls all kinds of “automatic” functions in our bodies – things we don’t have to consciously think about doing – like breathing, heart rate, digestion and more.

The autonomic nervous system has two branches: sympathetic (4) and parasympathetic (5). Think of them as opposites or yin and yang if you will. Sympathetic nerves help us rev up when needed. For instance,7 they kick into gear when someone almost rear-ends us on the freeway or if we hear a sudden firework go off nearby (which isn’t ideal considering July 4th is around the corner!). On the other hand,8,parasympathetic nerves are responsible for calming down bodily functions after suspenseful moments as mentioned before. So far so good?

Broken Autonomic Control Panel

But what happens when something goes wrong with this incredibly important control panel that regulates our body’s involuntary function(6)s? That’s where dysautonomia enters into play!

Dysautonomia disorders can affect any part of your autonomic nervous system causing either mild symptoms (9) such as dizziness but sometimes severe life-threatening symptoms including fainting more than once per day among many others (10).

It occurs due to an imbalance between sympathetic(yang) and parasympathetic(yin) regulation leading one branch/nerves being more than the other resulting in many of discomforts for individuals affected by dysautonomia.

Risk Factors

There is no direct cause of Dysautonomia, but there are some things that make you more after to develop it according to recent researches performed on this topic (11). It’s actually found out that there a genetic component involved so it seems like though conditions such as multiple system atrophy (MSA), pure autonomic failure,POTS and others may also cause dysfunction within the ANS.

Oh, and please don’t judge me if my writing even leaves ‘them silent but deadly gas’ to shame (12) That would be too much!.

Types of Dysautonomia Disorders

Yup! You guessed right! There’s not one but several types of dysautonomias(13) which can have different symptoms and affect different parts/functions within your nervous system. Some common types include:

Multiple System Atropy(MSA)

Remember when we talked about how various disco funk songs from late 70’s onwards stressed over “Staying Alive?”. Well with MSA..that takes on new meaning entirely. This disorder not only affects motor function(14) but comes hand-in-hand with orthostatic hypotension (sudden blood pressure drop upon standing up) (Not really the best co-driver during rush hours eh?), urinary dysfunction or among others.

Pure Autonomic Failure(PAF):

In this form,(15) The nerves pertaining parasympathetic system locally,tend to kill all their friends causing profound decreased functionality accompanied by inability maintain normal body posture among patient leading them being diagnosed with PAF.

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome(POTS):

POTS syndrome is relatively common while affecting more younger folks typically;Around two thirds being women.( Oh men…when will we stop loosing competitons )
This type of dysautonomia causes a rapid increase in heart rate and shallow breathing leading to discomfort.(16) Do they wear jetpack by any chance?
Other symptoms include dizziness, nausea, headaches and sometimes even fainting spells. Sweet! (17)

Familial Dysautonomia or Riley-Day Syndrome:

It is inherited autosomal recessive gene mutated;popular among Ashkenazi Jews community.
This disorder frequently affects the nerves originating from sympathetic function of nervous system leading to reduced secretion of different hormones.However it has specific symptoms including blood pressure instability, temperature fluctuations and difficulties swallowing.

Neurocardiogenic Syncope(NCS):

In this form the body scavs away with what little ‘brownie points’ you had left for using good language when talking to your family/friends. So here’s me trying my best!
You know that ‘Oh no!’ feeling you have before an exam? Your palms start sweating,you start panicking abit , (I literally can’t believe I’m describing every student out there right now lol), Well NCS adds drama by pushing folks toward loud ground impact (18)The sweet spot being… Fainting Spells!

But on more serious note human,(19) please consult an experienced physician if something like this persists!.

Now while each neurologists may have their own way of naming/dissecting these conditions depending on observations made after individual examination but generally classified as we went through above.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

So how do doctors go about diagnosing someone with dysautonomia?(20) It usually starts with looking at the patient’s medical history followed up by a physical examination(21). Physicians are likely referring appropriate postural vital signs examine futher clues regarding diagnosis.This testing comes handy since individuals expressing mild symptomlogy seen in some types often results normal which really puts difficult part for docs.I mean imagine going under invasive tests /MRI scans etc just to be late diagnosed with mild symptoms of dysautonomia!

Doctors may also rely on other tests such as head-up tilt table testing (22)also known as HUT among treating fraternity. This records an individual blood-pressure/Heart rate after been told to return from a lying position.

Treatment

Alright, cool – we know what it is now but how do you fix it? Unfortunately , there are no known cures for most forms of dysautonomia (23). Moreover while medication is generally used to relieve symptomatology associated with this disorder (24) but not usually curative in their effects so recommended therapy varies tremendously depending on the type and severity.

Medications

From Aldosterone agonist like fludrocortisone to heart rate regulating medications like beta-blockers,the aim here usually involves relieving patients by reducing general discomfort.Supporting this class sometimes includes Clonidine(Clonipin or Klonopin),a drug used in patients exhibiting anxiety/sleep related problems.( 25) Other drugs frequently considered include different selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs)-Tricyclic antidepressants(TCAs)/Gabapentin analogue.

You’re probably wondering now, can I really get full relief through medication without changing lifestyle? Sadly, NO! You still need make necessary adjustments set forth by healthcare provider..basically same old story-light exercises,follow plant based diet,sufficient hydration blah-blah…

Lifestyle Modifications/Calories intake optimization:

Through adequate management you could help keeps your fair-share of challenges that come accompanying someone affected by Dysautonomias at bay. Your medical practitioner will likely advise simple things like increasing salt/electrolytes intake e.g.-very important if living in hot climates!.This could involve drinking sports drinks(26), taking vitamin b-complex supplements maintaining its balance within body; And (!working out!)/(increasing mobility) which could improve cardiovascular fitness and the body’s overall tolerance. (27)

Conclusion

Woohoo, we made it to the end! I hope you now have a better understanding of what dysautonomia is and how it can affect someone’s life. Remember that symptoms occur as a result of branch imbalance between yin ( parasympathetic)and yang(sympathetic)tone this control depends on.Though there isn’t any known cure,you should take heart in knowing actually doing your best by making lifestyle changes,keeping up with regular checkups/reaching out to support groups provide some comfort about seems never-ending battle against dysautonomias. Stay healthy ,stay safe (28)

Kudos-If you completed reading article ending right here!

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