Dysautonomia is a group of conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Although there is no cure for dysautonomia, some forms may improve with treatment.

The ANS controls involuntary bodily functions such as:

  • heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • breathing
  • digestion
  • sweating
  • temperature regulation
  • pupil dilation
  • circulation
  • sexual arousal

People with ANS disorders or dysautonomia can experience symptoms when these bodily processes do not work as they should.

Dysautonomia can occur alone (primary dysautonomia) or result from another condition (secondary dysautonomia).

Conditions that can cause secondary dysautonomia include Parkinson’s disease, alcohol use disorder, and diabetes.

Some forms of secondary dysautonomia can improve with treatment. Primary dysautonomia is not curable, but some of the symptoms are manageable with ongoing medical treatments and day-to-day lifestyle adjustments.

This article will look into the treatments for dysautonomia, as well as its symptoms and diagnosis.

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There is currently no cure for primary dysautonomia. However, it may be possible to manage the symptoms.

Symptoms of secondary dysautonomia may improve with treatment for the underlying condition.

Primary dysautonomia

Treatment for primary dysautonomia focuses mainly on managing symptoms.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)

POTS is a disorder that causes reduced blood flow to the heart when a person stands up and after they lie down. This can cause lightheadedness, fainting, and a rapid heartbeat.

Medications that may help manage POTS symptoms include:

  • beta-blockers
  • fludrocortisone
  • midodrine

People typically use these medications on an ongoing basis. Sometimes, a person may need emergency treatments such as hospitalization or IV fluids to manage acute worsening episodes.

Multiple system atrophy (MSA)

MSA, or Shy-Drager syndrome, is a rare neurodegenerative disorder.

MSA causes progressive loss of function and nerve cell death in the brain and spinal cord. Autonomic dysfunction is one symptom of MSA. Other symptoms include:

  • speech difficulties
  • clumsiness
  • movement difficulties
  • lightheadedness and fainting
  • difficulty regulating urination

There are currently no treatments to prevent the progression of MSA. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms.

Medications doctors may prescribe to manage MSA symptoms include:

  • levodopa, which may help improve motor function
  • fludrocortisone and midodrine to treat lightheadedness
  • droxidopa, to treat low blood pressure when standing up
  • dihydroxyphenylserine, which helps replace chemical signals lost from the ANS
  • anticholinergic drugs to reduce sudden urges to urinate
  • botulinum toxin injections to improve muscle posture
  • clonazepam, melatonin, or antidepressants to help with sleep issues

Secondary dysautonomia

Treatment for secondary dysautonomia focuses on managing the underlying cause.

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neurological condition that can cause difficulties with movement, such as shakiness and stiffness.

The following dysautonomia symptoms can result from Parkinson’s disease:

  • Gastrointestinal issues such as fluctuations in digestion that can cause stomach upset, nausea, constipation, or urgency of bowel movements
  • Heart issues such as slow heart rate, palpitations, or high or low blood pressure, although these effects can vary from person to person
  • Vison issues such as dry eyes and double vision
  • Other issues such as difficulty urinating, sexual dysfunction, and unusually hot or cold feelings

Medications that may help with symptoms include:

  • botulinum toxin injections
  • laxatives
  • alpha agonists
  • antidepressants
  • midodrine
  • droxidopa
  • sildenafil to treat sexual dysfunction

The effectiveness of self-management techniques may depend on the type of dysautonomia a person has.

Self-management strategies should not replace prescription treatments from a medical professional.

Self-management methods for dysautonomia include:

  • drinking more water — 2–4 liters spread throughout the day
  • increasing sodium intake to 4–5 grams per day after consulting with a doctor
  • avoiding caffeine, high sugar drinks, and artificial sweeteners
  • physically strengthening the body with resistance exercise
  • using a cane or walker to help avoid falls
  • adding a seat to the shower to avoid falls
  • getting up gradually after lying down and sitting up for a few minutes before standing

Dysautonomia can be difficult for doctors to diagnose because its symptoms can overlap with those of other conditions.

To confirm a diagnosis, doctors will use a combination of the following methods:

  • medical history
  • a physical examination
  • blood pressure and heart rate tests
  • a resting electrocardiogram

A doctor may carry out additional diagnostic tests, such as:

  • autonomic function tests, including monitoring a person’s blood pressure as they go from lying down to standing
  • cardiac tests
  • blood tests
  • skin biopsies
  • sleep studies
  • genetic testing

Different types of dysautonomia can produce varying symptoms.

Possible symptoms of dysautonomia include:

  • sensitivity to light
  • migraine
  • brain fog
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
  • chest discomfort
  • slow or fast heart rate
  • high or low blood pressure
  • difficulty holding in urine
  • difficulty standing still
  • fatigue
  • lightheadedness
  • fainting
  • symptoms when moving from lying down to standing up
  • paleness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • abdominal pain
  • reflux
  • heartburn
  • unusually hot or cold feelings
  • decreased sweating
  • difficulty swallowing
  • difficulty producing tears

The following are some questions people frequently ask about dysautonomia.

What triggers dysautonomia?

Dysautonomia can result from genetic or degenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease.

Can you recover from dysautonomia?

There is no cure for dysautonomia. However, treatment may help reduce the symptoms.

Dysautonomia is a category of conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system. There are various forms of dysautonomia, and each has specific treatments.

A person should speak with a doctor about the best treatment option for their needs.