Dysautonomia involves dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It can occur by itself, due to another condition, or without a known cause.

The term “dysautonomia” describes ANS malfunction. This may occur due to some nerves not working as they should or having inconsistent activity. It has many potential causes.

The ANS controls involuntary bodily functions, such as blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. Several problems can occur with these automatic functions when the ANS does not function properly.

Read on to learn more about potential causes of dysautonomia and the differences between various forms of the condition.

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Dysautonomia may involve excess activity or failure in any part of the ANS. Symptoms can affect various body systems, such as the respiratory, cardiac, and digestive systems. Worldwide, dysautonomia affects more than 70 million people.

It can occur as a primary condition, secondary, or idiopathically. Below is more information on each classification.

Primary dysautonomia

Doctors consider a person to have primary dysautonomia when dysfunction of the ANS is the leading disease process.

It usually occurs due to an inherited condition or degenerative disease that affects the nervous system or brain. Examples of primary dysautonomia include:

Secondary dysautonomia

Secondary dysautonomia develops due to the presence of another medical condition. Various illnesses and health issues can cause dysautonomia.

Idiopathic dysautonomia

“Idiopathic” means doctors have not identified any known cause of a disease or condition. In people with idiopathic dysautonomia, their ANS malfunctions for an unknown reason.

Some possible causes of dysautonomia include:

Familial dysautonomia

Familial dysautonomia is a genetic condition that affects the sensory and autonomic nervous systems. It is rare, with an estimated 350 people living with the condition worldwide. It primarily affects people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.

It can have a variety of effects on the body, including:

  • insensitivity to pain
  • an unstable body temperature
  • growth limitations
  • digestive, breathing, and vision problems


Amyloidosis involves a condition in which the body produces abnormal proteins called amyloids. The amyloids attach to different tissues, organs, and nerves, affecting their typical function.

Amyloid proteins can disrupt the nerve fibers in the autonomic nervous system and lead to symptoms of dysautonomia.


Diabetes is a long-term condition that affects insulin production or how the body uses insulin.

Over time, if blood sugar levels repeatedly become too high, it can damage the blood vessels to the nerves and the nerves themselves. In some instances, the damage from diabetes is significant enough to cause dysautonomia.

However, the relationship between the ANS and diabetes is complex. A 2021 article indicates that autonomic dysfunction, another term for dysautonomia, may precede the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Parkinson’s disease

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive brain condition that affects nerve cells. A 2020 review found that at least four categories of dysautonomia symptoms occur in people with Parkinson’s disease. These include:

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition that causes damage to the small intestines due to gluten intolerance. When an individual with celiac disease eats gluten, it causes an abnormal immune system response that damages part of the small intestine.

Neurological disorders appear to occur in 6–10% of people with celiac disease. Dysautonomia is one of the possible neurological conditions that can develop.

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease

In the United States, Charcot-Marie-Tooth (CMT) disease affects about 126,000 people, making it one of the most common genetic neurological disorders.

CMT involves a group of conditions that affect the functioning of the peripheral nerves. These nerves send signals to and from the spinal cord and brain to the rest of the body. CMT may also affect the ANS, which can lead to secondary dysautonomia.

Chiari malformations

Chiari malformations are a group of structural brain problems that usually affect the lower part of the skull, where the spinal cord and brain connect. This can impact the flow of spinal fluid, leading to a buildup. Chiari malformations can cause a variety of symptoms relating to dysautonomia.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of genetic conditions that impact connective tissue. The syndrome occurs due to an inherited alteration in collagen synthesis or processing. This causes hypermobility of the joints, meaning they can bend more than usual. It also causes very elastic skin and fragile blood vessels.

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome can cause various complications outside of the joints and connective tissue, including dysautonomia.

Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease that involves the exocrine glands. However, it may also affect other parts of the body, such as the nervous system. Common symptoms include:

According to a 2021 article, symptoms of ANS dysfunction are widespread in people with Sjogren’s syndrome. It suggests that although the exact physiology of how Sjogren’s syndrome affects the ANS remains unclear, the immune systems of people with the syndrome attack the glands that make saliva, which means they may also attack other areas of the body.

Dysautonomia is a malfunction or failure of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS controls various involuntary bodily functions, such as temperature control, breathing, and blood pressure. Because the ANS controls so many functions, symptoms of dysautonomia can be highly varied.

ANS dysfunction might occur as the primary condition or secondary to several other conditions, such as diabetes, Parkinson’s, and celiac disease. In other cases, dysautonomia may occur without a known cause.