Your nervous system acts as your body’s motherboard, with the brain serving as the primary processing unit. But do you know what happens if this complex organ system fails?
Numbness, tingling, paralysis, or loss of speech or vision are a few resulting symptoms from a partial or complete breakdown of the nervous system.
One major disorder of the nervous system (ANS) is dysautonomia. Dysautonomia or autonomic dysfunction refers to a group of medical conditions caused by problems with the autonomic nervous system.
If you have problems with your blood pressure, breathing, or bladder control, there may be a problem with the autonomic nervous system. Sexual difficulties like erectile dysfunction may also be an adverse outcome of a nervous system malfunction.
The worldwide prevalence of this disease is demonstrably high—with dysautonomia patients accounting for more than 70 million cases worldwide.
Let’s read more about dysautonomia, its symptoms, causes, and treatment plans for patients.
What is Dysautonomia?
Dysautonomia is an umbrella term referring to any functional abnormality of the autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is responsible for controlling a number of the body’s involuntary actions, such as our heart rate, internal body temperature, execration, and sexual arousal.
Disorders of the sympathetic nervous system (the body’s “fight-or-flight” mechanisms) most often characterize dysautonomia. This is opposed to disorders of the parasympathetic nervous system, which refer to the body’s “rest-and-digest” mechanisms.
It’s important to mention that dysautonomia is not a single disease or disorder; it’s the failure of the autonomic nervous system that stems from other factors.
These causes can be classified into the following categories:
- Primary dysautonomia: Primary dysautonomia results from injury due to several different degenerative neurologic diseases.
- Secondary dysautonomia: A non-neurologic systemic illness wherein injury to the autonomic nervous system is the predominant effect.
- Iatrogenic dysautonomia: Drug side effects that may manifest as autonomic nervous system abnormalities.
Causes of Dysautonomia
A myriad of factors can cause autonomic dysfunctions that lead to dysautonomia. This often happens when the nerve endings in your body are unable to properly respond to each other, causing faulty signaling to various body parts.
These causes can either be genetic or acquired.
In rare instances, genetics may be the reason for the development of this autoimmune disease.
Familial dysautonomia is a common occurrence among Ashkenazi Jews. Moreover, amyloidosis, Fabry disease, and hereditary sensory autonomic neuropathy are other genetic disorders that may also give rise to this disease.
It’s most often the case that people acquire this disease due to other diseases. Here are some of the most common reasons why they occur:
- Autoimmune diseases such as Guillain-Barre, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune autonomic ganglionopathy
- Degenerative neurologic diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Shy-Drager syndrome
- An abnormal reflex response such as vasovagal syncope, carotid sinus hypersensitivity, and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
- Diabetes mellitus and vitamin B12 deficiency
- Botulism, HIV, leprosy, Lyme disease, and tetanus
- Certain medications and alcohol
- Spinal cord injuries
Other possible triggers may include bed rest from an extended illness or recovery, or COVID, according to a recent research study.
Consult your doctor to know if you are suffering from symptoms of dysautonomia.
Symptoms of Dysautonomia
Symptoms of dysautonomia may vary depending on the patient and the cause of the disorder. The symptoms may be persistent or intermittent. The severity of the symptoms, too, differs from patient to patient.
Some common symptoms of dysautonomia include:
- Orthostatic hypotension
- Low blood pressure
- Sudomotor dysfunction
- Resting tachycardia
- Erectile dysfunction
- Nausea and constipation
- Migraines and frequent headaches
- Balance and blood flow issues
- Chest pain and discomfort
Dysautonomia can be a mild, temporary condition or may entail a severe long-term illness. Dysautonomia does not produce unique symptoms, but the collection of symptoms helps identify dysautonomia.
Treatment Of Dysautonomia
Dysautonomia has no cure, but doctors can help patients manage symptoms. In most cases, secondary illnesses are treated to reduce the effect of the symptoms.
Some common treatments include:
- Physical therapy
- Hydrating frequently
- Adding extra salt, about 2 to 4 gms, to your diet
- Taking medications such as fludrocortisone, pyridostigmine, and midodrine
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeinated energy drinks
- Wearing compression garments to increase blood circulation
Along with receiving medical attention, these complementary therapies can also help you cope with and manage your symptoms:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to overcome stress, anxiety, and worry
- Cannabidiol (CBD), though more research is required on its effectiveness
- Mindful techniques like yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises
Dysautonomia can result in mental and behavioral problems for the patient.
For instance, POTS can result in depression and anxiety, as revealed by a published article. The mental conditions are mainly due to the stress of dealing with unpredictable symptoms.
In addition, POTS also influences the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin. Antidepressant medication may help relieve these symptoms.
Orthostatic hypotension can also lead to accidental falling, which has significant morbidity, especially in the older population. Furthermore, orthostatic hypotension has been associated with the development of dementia and cognitive impairment.
Dysautonomia and Erectile Dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction is a common occurrence in dysautonomia. Psychologists have long held the belief that sexual dysfunction originated from psychological causes. However, it has since been established that an organic or pharmacologic cause is present in 80% of impotent men.
When evaluating impotence, the particular clue is the presence or absence of morning erection. A morning erection is a manifestation of sympathetic nervous activity during REM sleep. This acts as an accurate measure of the functionality of the autonomic nervous system.
Though autonomic nervous system disorders can cause erectile dysfunction, it’s essential to know that it is not the only cause of erectile dysfunction. It is best to consult your doctor before taking any treatments.
Erectile dysfunction, affecting roughly half of all men aged 40-70 years to some degree in the US, is treatable. Some treatments include shockwave therapy, testosterone replacement therapy, surgical implants, and medication like Viagra (sildenafil).
Consult Orlando’s Leading Men’s Clinic for a Medical Consultation
Though a common health issue, autonomic dysfunction is underdiagnosed, undertreated, and underestimated by healthcare systems. Most patients suffering from dysautonomia tend to be diagnosed after prevalent chronic symptoms.
That said, having dysautonomia is not a reason to lose interest in life. As dysautonomia is a condition that may be life-threatening, it is essential to keep an eye out for early symptoms and seek timely treatment.
Dysautonomia may make your life more difficult and stressful, and you may have no treatment. However, it is crucial to keep a positive outlook. Many experts at leading medical institutions are carrying out research on dysautonomia.
Nonetheless, if you have dysautonomia, for now, it is necessary to follow the treatment plan set by a medical professional. Contact your doctor immediately if you are experiencing symptoms of dysautonomia or its causes.
The medical professionals at Orlando men’s clinic Premier Men’s Medical Center specialize in treating conditions that impact men’s health. Our concierge approach positions your unique case at the centerpoint of our focus. We don’t just give you a pill and send you on your way. We treat the underlying issues that led to conditions such as Erectile Dysfunction, Low Testosterone, Premature Ejaculation, and more. Contact our office today to schedule an appointment.