Understanding Dysautonomia

By James Heuer

Dysautonomia refers to a varied range of conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system (ANS) function. The ANS controls breathing, heart rate, keeps blood pressure steady and many other body functions.

There are roughly fifteen types of Dysautonomia but no single treatment that addresses all the different types. Primary Dysautonomia is typically inherited or caused by a degenerative disease Secondary Dysautonomia is caused by injury or another condition. Dysautonomia can impact the whole body.

The most common type of Dysautonomia, Neurogenic syncope (fainting) (NCS), affects tens of millions of people worldwide. In the human body, gravity naturally pulls blood downward. During this process, a healthy autonomic nervous system will automatically adjust the body’s heartbeat and muscles to stop blood from pooling in the lower extremities and will make sure that adequate blood flows to the brain. In NCS the body fails to regulate its internal systems and the result causes the body to faint from the pooling blood and other internal regulator failures, including inadequate blood flow to the brain.

The second most common Dysautonomia is called Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). POTS typically affects those who already have an autoimmune condition.

Many of the other types share the same prognosis: There is no cure for Primary Dysautonomia. The treatment goal is to reduce symptoms to a level that will allow the person to start strengthening their body, which may include exercise, physical therapy, or even counseling to help manage lifestyle changes. Multiple providers can be involved, including neurologists, cardiologists and functional neurologists.

It is important to understand that dysautonomia is an invisible condition. There is no visual cue, such as a cast or brace, to help loved ones, caregivers, and friends identify and understand dysautonomia.

Previously published on Thebrainhealthmagazine.com.

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