Dysautonomia occurs when a person’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) does not function correctly. Certain types of dysautonomia can severely affect a person’s quality of life and may reduce their life expectancy.
The ANS is the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary functions. These are functions that take place without thinking, such as heart rate and breathing.
There are various types of dysautonomia that can affect the body in different ways. In some cases, parts of the ANS can fail, and in other cases, dysautonomia can cause too much activity.
In this article, we discuss the types of dysautonomia and how they can affect a person’s life expectancy. We also outline managing dysautonomia.
Dysautonomia can affect a person in several ways. These
- Local: Local dysautonomia causes pain that typically occurs in one location in the body.
- Generalized: If dysautonomia is generalized, it has spread throughout the body.
- Severe and sudden: In some cases, dysautonomia can come on severely and suddenly. This can also be reversible.
- Chronic: In some cases, a person can have dysautonomia that is ongoing and worsens over time.
People with chronic dysautonomia that is generalized and causes central nervous system degeneration will most likely have a poorer long-term outlook than those with other types.
There are a number of types of dysautonomia. Below are some of the main types of the condition.
Postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
POTS causes a person’s heart rate to increase quickly after they get up from sitting or lying down.
This occurs due to a
Other symptoms of POTS include:
- feeling faint and lightheaded
Neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS)
NCS is the name for a fainting spell that occurs when the body
NCS can cause a person to develop widening blood vessels and a reduced heart rate when reacting to the stimuli. This can cause a person to faint.
Common stimuli that can trigger this reaction include:
- long periods of standing
- crowded places
- hot environments
- severe pain
- extreme fatigue
A person experiencing NCS will often experience symptoms before they faint. These include:
Multiple system atrophy (MSA)
MSA causes gradual damage to the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. It can cause a person to develop the following symptoms:
- slowness of movements
- clumsiness or a lack of coordination
- a croaky or quivering voice
- fainting and lightheadedness
- bladder control problems
A person with MSA will often develop symptoms in their 50s, and the symptoms will then rapidly advance over the next 5–10 years.
MSA can cause a person to have difficulty moving, and they may become bedridden. It may also cause a person to develop problems swallowing, which can lead to pneumonia.
Familial dysautonomia (FD)
FD is a debilitating condition that affects nerve cells in the ANS.
Symptoms of FD include:
- difficulty swallowing
- poor control of:
- blood pressure
- body temperature
- inability to make tears
- inability to feel pain
- vomiting episodes
- frequent episodes of pneumonia
- difficulty walking
Symptoms usually worsen over time and can be life threatening.
Different forms of dysautonomia affect the body in different ways. Below we outline how different types of the condition can affect a person’s life expectancy.
The outlook for people with POTS is often positive. However, long-term data is limited. Younger people generally have more favorable outcomes.
POTS does not generally cause death and should not affect a person’s life expectancy.
NCS is the most common cause of fainting. It is mostly benign. However, it can be life threatening in people with an abnormal heart rate.
There is little information available outlining life expectancy rates for people with NCS.
There is currently no cure for MSA and no way to slow its progression. MSA significantly affects a person’s life expectancy.
People with MSA often live for 6–9 years after their symptoms begin. In some cases, people may live for more than 10 years after their symptoms begin.
FD also decreases a person’s life expectancy.
The outlook for a person with dysautonomia
In some cases, the condition may improve with treatment for the underlying cause. In other cases, treatment of primary dysautonomia can help reduce a person’s symptoms.
The following are some questions people frequently ask about dysautonomia.
Can dysautonomia get worse over time?
MSA is progressive. This means its symptoms can get worse over time.
Other types of dysautonomia are not progressive, and the symptoms typically only come and go.
What can be mistaken for dysautonomia?
There are many other conditions that share similar symptoms to different types of dysautonomia.
Sometimes people may mistake MSA for Parkinson’s disease.
- structural heart defects
- pulmonary embolism
- myocardial infarction
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- thyroid disease
Is dysautonomia a terminal illness?
There are many types of dysautonomia. Generally, dysautonomia is not a terminal illness.
However, people who have chronic dysautonomia that is generalized and associated with CNS degeneration will often have a
Dysautonomia is the name for a number of conditions that occur due to disorders with the ANS.
Dysautonomia includes many different health conditions that can affect the body in a number of ways. In some cases, dysautonomia can affect a person’s life expectancy.
POTS causes a person’s heart rate to increase after they stand up from sitting or lying down. This can be debilitating. However, it does not typically affect a person’s life expectancy.
NCS is the name for fainting spells that occur due to the body’s reaction to certain stimuli. NCS is mostly benign but can be life threatening in people with an abnormal heart rate.
MSA causes gradual progressive damage to the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. People with MSA do not always have a positive outlook and often live for 6–9 years after their symptoms begin.
FD affects nerve cells in the brain and causes symptoms that often appear at birth and worsen over time. FD may be life threatening and has a high mortality rate.