Dysautonomia is a medical term used for a group of complex conditions that are caused by a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS regulates all of the unconscious functions of the body, including the cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, metabolic system, and endocrine system. A malfunction of the ANS can cause debilitating symptoms and may pose significant challenges for effective medical treatment. This means that the automatic things your body always does may not be happening so well.
Dysautonomia is a dysfunction of your autonomic nervous system. Obviously, the autonomic nervous system is very important to our bodies. The heart, stomach, intestines, blood pressure, body temperature regulation, endocrine system (glands), pupil dilation, and muscles (in the skin, around blood vessels, in the eye, stomach, and in the heart) are all controlled by the autonomic nervous system. A malfunction of this system impacts every organ of the body. Most of the time we are unaware of our autonomic nervous system working in its usual “involuntary” manner. It controls our systems automatically and we usually take it for granted. It works 24/ so we don’t have to rely on reminding our hearts to beat for instance.
Some patients develop symptoms after a viral illness, immunization, or trauma. Vaccines play a larger role in chronic illness than is generally known. Children may have symptoms after a growth spurt, common in early teens.
Dysautonomia conditions are widely unknown to society at large. As a result, most people do not realize the impact such conditions have on those afflicted and their families.
When we stand up – gravity pulls about 1/3 of our blood to the lower part of our body. Then our autonomic system responds and immediately tells our brain we are standing up and to do three things:
- make the heart beat faster
- increase the force of the heart’s contractions and
- tighten blood vessels in the lower part of the body to about three times it’s previous tightness.
The effect forces blood from the lower half of our body into the upper half. Then, our blood pressure regulates properly and we are good to go.
In some people with dysautonomia the brain does not get these messages correctly and their blood stays in the lower part of their body and then their blood pressure drops and their heart rate increases.
Low blood pressure has nothing to do with our intelligence or how smart or clever we are. It can cause cognitive dysfunction such as short term memory loss .It affects their ability to think clearly and to concentrate. This impact on concentration is usually brief or transient.
Some people are overwhelmed by their symptoms and have to lay down all the time. The heart rate often shoots up as the body responds to a drop in blood pressure. This can be the cause for a lot of tiredness and fatigue and generally feeling washed out.
It is often difficult to see the symptoms of dysautonmia. A general physician sometimes misses the clues leading to a proper diagnosis. Cardiologists and cardiac electrophysiologists can efficiently diagnose and treat dysautonomia children. Sometimes neurologists get involved though personally I wish they didn’t. Research is being done at the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, Medical University of Ohio, National Institutes of Health, NY Medical College, Vanderbilt Medical Center and others. It is exciting and revolutionary, and there is tremendous hope on the horizon. Tragically, there are also extremely rare fatal forms of dysautonomia but this is not at all common in children.
The average person may have never heard of dysautonomia before, but progress is being made in this field of medicine every day and word is getting out. With time and awareness, more and more people will start to understand the various forms of dysautonomia and more and more people will know what it is. Thanks to medical science and compassionate physicians and researchers, there is tremendous hope.
For additional information on the history of dysautonomia:
Dysautonomia: A family of misunderstood disorders
Symptoms of dysautonomia may include:
- tachycardia (extremely fast heart rate)
- bradycardia (slow heart rate)
- chest pain
- dangerously low blood pressure
- wide swings/sudden drops in blood pressure
- orthostatic intolerance (the inability to remain upright)
- excessive fatigue
- exercise intolerance
- near fainting
- gastrointestinal problems
- shortness of breath
- frequent urination
- cognitive impairment
- visual blurring or tunneling