What is Dysautonomia?

A neurological disorder typified by dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.  One, or many of the functions performed by the body’s “auto-pilot” can be affected.* Have you heard of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems? These, together, are the autonomic nervous system.
See diagram below for a more detailed look at what all the autonomic functions are.  When a body is struggling with Dysautonomia, there is a constant internal struggle for homeostasis. Patients have labile symptoms which can make diagnosis tricky.

When all aspects of the autonomic system are affected, it is called Pandysautonomia (pan from the latin for ‘all’).  That is my diagnosis.
This term for a more widespread, sometimes autoimmune Dysautonomia is more commonly used in the UK and NZ. In the States, it is called Autoimmune Autonomic Ganglionopathy.

The following excerpt is from the ‘go to’ site for patients and medical professionals when it comes to Dysautonomia. The information below has been reproduced with permission.

I emailed Dysautonomia International when I was first diagnosed and Lauren Stiles emailed me a long letter full of supportive, timely information.  She continues to help people like me through her website.  You can find them at

Autonomic Nervous System Graphic

“Dysautonomia is an umbrella term used to describe various conditions that cause a malfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System. The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) controls most of the essential functions of the body that we do not consciously think about, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, dilation and constriction of the pupils of the eye and temperature control.The ANS is made up of two branches: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). The SNS controls the more active “fight or flight” responses such as increasing heart rate and blood pressure.1,2 The PNS can be thought of as the “rest and digest” part of the autonomic nervous system, as it slows down the heart rate and aides in digestion.1,3,4 The endocrine andmetabolic systems are involved as well.3 These systems are in balance in a healthy person, and react correctly to outside stimuli, such as temperature, stress, and gravity. When they are out of balance and do not function properly for any number of reasons, autonomic dysfunction – or dysautonomia – occurs. People living with various forms of dysautonomia have trouble regulating these systems, which can result in symptoms such as lightheadedness, fainting, unstable blood pressure, tachycardia or bradycardia, gastoparesis and more.

Dysautonomia can occur as a primary disorder or in association with other conditions, such as Diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis and Parkinson disease.1,3 Some of the more common forms of Dysautonomia include Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS, sometimes called Vasovagal Syncope), Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) and Orthostatic Intolerance (OI). Some of the less common forms of Dysautonomia include Pure Autonomic Failure (PAF), Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), Familial Dysautonomia, Baroreflex Failure, Autoimmune Autonomic Ganglionopathy, and Dopamine Beta Hydroxylase Deficiency.1,2,3,4,5
This is not a fully inclusive list, as there are many different forms of dysautonomia.

There is currently no cure for dysautonomia, but secondary forms such as Sjogren’s Syndrome induced autonomic neuropathy or Diabetic Autonomic Neuoropathy may improve with treatment of the underlying disease.4 There are many treatments available to improve quality of life, both with medications and lifestyle changes/adaptations geared towards the type of dysautonomia and unique health situation of the patient. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Dysautonomia International encourages you to read the summaries of the more common autonomic disorders under our “Learn More” tab”.

1. National Institutes of Health Rare Disease Network’s Autonomic Disorders Consortium

2. Dysautonomias: Clinical Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System. Moderator: David S. Goldstein, MD, PhD; Discussants: David Robertson, MD; Murray Esler, MD; Stephen E. Straus, MD; and Graeme Eisenhofer, PhD

3. Dysautonomia, A family of misunderstood disorders. Richard N. Fogoros, M.D., About.com Guide Updated November 13, 2011.

4. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Information Page

5. Clinical Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System Associated With Orthostatic Intolerance: An Overview of Classification, Clinical Evaluation and Management. Blair P. Grubb, M.D. Associate Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Divisions of Cardiology and Neurology, Barry Karas, M.D. Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, The Medical College of Ohio.


3 thoughts on “What is Dysautonomia?”

  1. A severe Traumatic brain injury can also cause a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system .
    But as the NZ govt(ACC) does not like people with TBI no care or treatments are funded/allowed.When my heart stops I cannot do anything or if it beats too fast, if I cannot breath I just have to not panic.
    WInZ msd after declining legal entitlements( inc medical) in 2006-then stopped my invalid benefit ( only income support)and would not do a review on their decisions.

    I always have to reply “I am good ” even when in great pain and discomfort because when I start to describe the symptoms the neighbors do not really want to know and they just look blank and tune out . They just want me to say I am OK in a normal way and go on their way as quick as they can.
    The brain is not seen except by scans and people do not know about the brain or mind or the likes, they just judge on appearance or words.
    The average dr will see you as a list of symptoms.
    On a positive note since you do not have a TBI at least you have medical care, treatments and the drs do not fail you in duty of care, do not fire you without transfer of care in clinically unstable condition or refuse to treat your severe injuries or try to euthanize you to save ACC money.

    1. Yes, I have heard that brain/neck injury can also cause dysautonomia. I am so sorry to hear that you have been so left behind by the medical system. I can only encourage you not to give up, you need a great neurologist who understands what is happening. They may not be able to do anything about the damage, but helping with the symptoms (to a degree) can be possible. Are you in Auckland?

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