Dysautonomia is not a specific diagnosis. It is an umbrella term for any condition affecting the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Due to the number of different types, dysautonomia can cause various possible symptoms.

The ANS controls all involuntary actions in the body. This includes regulating the heartbeat, breathing, blinking, and many other movements and processes that a person does not need to think about.

Dysautonomia can vary between people. A variety of symptoms can occur depending on how the ANS is affected and whether the condition affects only parts of the ANS or the whole system.

This article reviews some common symptoms associated with dysautonomia, different types of the condition, treatments, and more.

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Symptoms can vary between the different types of dysautonomia.

Experts indicate that there are at least 15 different types of dysautonomia that can affect different organ systems throughout the body. Neurocardiogenic syncope and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome are the most common of these.

Some of the main symptoms of dysautonomia include:

Other possible symptoms include:

In addition to these symptoms, a person may develop neurological symptoms that can include:

A person’s symptoms may be acute and reversible or chronic and progressive. They can also vary significantly between people, even with the same subtype or underlying condition if one exists.

Learn more about dysautonomia.

There are at least 15 types of dysautonomia.

They may be genetic, which means a person inherits them from their biological parents, or they may develop due to a condition that affects the autonomic nerves, such as diabetes.

There are three main subtypes of dysautonomia:

  • Primary dysautonomia: With this subtype, autonomic dysfunction is the main condition.
  • Secondary dysautonomia: In this subtype, autonomic dysfunction occurs as a result of another condition.
  • Idiopathic dysautonomia: This describes dysfunction with no known cause.

According to Dysautonomia International, around 70 million people worldwide have dysautonomia.

It states that the conditions most closely associated with dysautonomia include:

Additional information and statistics in this section also come from Dysautonomia International.

Neurocardiogenic syncope

Neurocardiogenic syncope is the most common type of dysautonomia. Many people with this type experience mild symptoms and may only faint 1–2 times during their life.

Other people have a more severe version, which might include fainting several times per day. This can greatly increase their risk of injury, broken bones, and traumatic brain injury.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome affects an estimated 1 out of 100 teenagers, and about 3 million people in the United States had the condition before 2020.

Sometimes known as an “invisible illness,” this syndrome gets the name because it affects many internal systems.

Symptoms can include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • lightheadedness
  • fainting
  • tachycardia
  • exercise intolerance
  • gastrointestinal upset
  • shaking
  • temperature sensitivity

Multiple system atrophy

Multiple system atrophy is a fatal type of dysautonomia that typically occurs after the age of 40 years. It is a rare condition with many neurological symptoms, including:

A person with multiple system atrophy will often become bedridden within 2 years. There is an average life expectancy of around 5–10 years following diagnosis.

Secondary forms

Several underlying conditions can cause dysautonomia. Some examples include:

Although dysautonomia has no cure, a person’s symptoms may improve with treatments for the condition or the underlying cause. However, some people will only have moderate improvement, even with treatment.

It can be hard to predict how someone will respond to treatment, and doctors often need to adjust medications to find the correct dose and frequency.

Treatments for dysautonomia focus on controlling symptoms and improving quality of life.

People who experience fainting upon standing may find their symptoms improve through:

  • increasing their salt intake at their doctor’s advice
  • drinking more water throughout the day
  • elevating the head of their bed
  • using medications such as fludrocortisone and midodrine to increase blood pressure

A doctor may administer a fluid bolus through an IV line in emergencies.

Secondary forms of dysautonomia may improve when treating the underlying condition. A person’s doctor can advise on treatments for their specific condition.

Several conditions can coexist with dysautonomia and may cause symptoms associated with the condition.

Possible coexisting conditions include:

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about dysautonomia.

What is the most common cause of dysautonomia?

In some cases, dysautonomia may be genetic. This means that a person inherits the gene mutation from a biological parent.

Dysautonomia may also be secondary to another medical condition. However, in some cases, there is no identifiable underlying cause.

What conditions can doctors mistake for dysautonomia?

Dysautonomia can cause symptoms that resemble other conditions. For example, the symptoms may occur due to hypotension, which has numerous other possible causes.

Nonprofit organization The Dysautonomia Project suggests that dysautonomia may be one of the most misdiagnosed conditions. This may be due to a lack of knowledge about the condition and the fact that symptoms can be unpredictable and resemble other conditions.

If a doctor suspects dysautonomia, they may perform an orthostatic vitals test. This may also help them rule out other conditions.

Is dysautonomia neurological or cardiac?

Dysautonomia is a type of neurological disorder. It affects the ANS, which controls the body’s automated processes, such as the heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, and more.

Since it impacts blood pressure and heart function, some of the treatments for symptoms are medications that doctors may recommend to treat cardiac conditions.

Dysautonomia refers to a group of related disorders that affect the autonomic nervous system. There are three main subtypes of dysautonomia: primary, secondary, and idiopathic. The condition may occur alongside other disorders that cause additional symptoms.

Common symptoms of dysautonomia can include fainting, high or low blood pressure, and other issues with regulating automatic processes in the body. Symptoms can vary significantly between different people, even within the same subtypes.

Coexisting conditions, fluctuating symptoms, and a lack of knowledge of the condition can lead to a delay in diagnosis.