The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that helps people control important bodily functions, such as heartbeat, metabolism, the creation of body fluids, sexual stimulation and blood pressure. Autonomic nerve dysfunction occurs when the autonomous nervous system is unable to carry out its regular functions, which can result in problems within other systems in the body. This can include the circulatory and excretory systems. There is no cure for autonomic nervous system dysfunction; however, symptoms can sometimes be controlled, especially if the condition is mild. People with severe forms of autonomic nerve dysfunction, in which different systems of their body are affected, can die from other health problems, such as pneumonia, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Autonomic nervous system dysfunction is connected to different health problems. Pure autonomic failure is a condition that causes people to have major issues within their circulatory system, multiple system atrophy, familial dysautonomia, problems with the nervous system and neurocardiogenic syncope, and difficulties with the function of the circulatory and respiratory systems. People with certain health problems, such as diabetes, often develop autonomic nervous system dysfunction along with chronic health problems, such as diabetes or Parkinson’s disease.
People with autonomic nerve dysfunction can have a range of symptoms, because the condition can affect different bodily functions. The range of symptoms include increase in heart rate, decrease in blood pressure, difficulty standing, problems sleeping, tiredness, dizziness, a more frequent need to urinate, vision problems, shortness of breath, nausea and bad headaches. Some people with the condition frequently faint or get tremors, especially when they try to stand up. Men can develop erectile dysfunction as a result of autonomic nerve dysfunction. People who have autonomic nervous system dysfunction along with another condition, such as Parkinson’s disease, may develop symptoms such as speech difficulties or pain in their necks, in addition to symptoms related to the specific condition.
No medication or procedure exists that can fully restore the function of the autonomic nervous system. Doctors often prescribe medications that help relieve certain symptoms for patients with autonomic nerve dysfunction. Drugs, such as midodrine or pyridostigmine, help to regulate blood pressure in people with blood pressure drops. People can also increase their daily salt and water intake to help normalize their blood pressure, according to Merck Manual’s Online Medical Library. Doing physical or occupational therapy exercises can sometimes help patients perform everyday functions, such as standing up without pain. People with Parkinson’s disease and autonomic dysfunction often receive medications, such as sinemet, to help reduce problems with uncontrolled muscle movements and spasms.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “Dysautonomia Information Page,” https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/dysautonomia/dysautonomia.htm
Merck Manuals Online Medical Library, “Autonomic Nervous System Disorders,” https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/sec06/ch098666/ch098666a.html
Contact a Family for Families with Disabled Children, “Family Dysautonomia,” https://www.cafamily.org.uk/Direct/f17.html
Cleveland Clinic, “Dysautonomia,” https://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/dysautonomia/hic_dysautonomia.aspx
Dysautonomia Youth Network of America Inc., “Dysautonomia,” https://www.dynakids.org/what.jsp\
Dysautonomia Information Network, “Dysautonomia,” https://www.dinet.org/
U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, “Autonomic Nervous System Disorders,” https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/autonomicnervoussystemdisorders.html
Healthline, “Autonomic Dysfunction,” https://www.healthline.com/galecontent/autonomic-dysfunction/3