Dysautonomia is defined as a group of medical conditions caused by dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is the part of your nervous system that controls involuntary body functions like your heartbeat, breathing and digestion.

Dysautonomia is an umbrella term for a group of disorders that share a common problem.

Any dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system can cause heart and blood pressure problems, breathing difficulties, loss of bladder control and many other problems.

Dysautonomia is the name given to a number of conditions caused by a dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system.

It is probable that conditions like Pots (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) and MS (Multiple Sclerosis) fall within the bounds of dysautonomia.

The autonomic nervous system is the part of the nervous system that controls involuntary or subconscious functions of the human body.

Subconscious functions are bodily functions that occur without cognitive thinking. Heart rate, bladder control, skin temperature and blood pressure all come under the control of the autonomic nervous system.

For this reason, dysautonomia can also be known as autonomic dysfunction or autonomic neuropathy.

Primary dysautonomia occurs without any other underlying health condition, while secondary dysautonomia can result from conditions such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Lupus and many other ailments.


While dysautonomia is relatively common, it can also be known as autonomic dysfunction or autonomic neuropathy.

It affects more than 70 million people worldwide and can be present at birth or appear gradually or suddenly at any age.

Dysautonomia can appear without the presence of underlying diseases when it will be called primary dysautonomia. It can also happen as a result of another disease where it will be called secondary dysautonomia.

Some diseases known to trigger secondary dysautonomia are:

  • Amyloidosis.
  • Celiac disease.
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
  • Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis.
  • Diabetes.
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
  • Lupus.
  • Lyme disease.
  • Muscular sclerosis.
  • Parkinson’s disease.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Sarcoidosis.
  • Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Vitamin B and E deficiencies
dysautonomia in the multiple sclerosis body
Human Anatomy

Dysautonomic Malfunction Symptoms

Due to the central role of the autonomic nervous system, the symptoms of dysautonomia can vary greatly. They may be constant or sporadic in nature and could be mild or sufficiently severe as to interfere with daily life.

One common sign of dysautonomia is orthostatic intolerance, which means you can’t stand up for long, without feeling faint or dizzy. Other signs and symptoms of dysautonomia you may experience include:

  • Balance problems
  • Chest pain/discomfort
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • GI problems (constipation)
  • Large swings in heart rate and blood pressure
  • Fainting, loss of consciousness
  • Migraines or frequent headaches
  • Erectile dysfunction

Types of Dysautonomia

Some conditions that could be caused by primary dysautonomia include:

  • Neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS): NCS is the most common form of dysautonomia. It can cause fainting spells that may happen frequently or very occasionally.  NCS is also called situational syncope or vasovagal syncope.
  • Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS): A disorder that causes problems with circulation (blood flow), POTS can cause your heart to beat too fast when you stand up. This can lead to fainting, chest pain and shortness of breath.
  • Familial dysautonomia (FD): People inherit this type of dysautonomia from their parents. It can cause decreased pain sensitivity, lack of eye tears and trouble regulating body temperature. FD is more likely to affect Jewish people of Eastern European heritage.
  • Multiple system atrophy (MSA): A life-threatening form of dysautonomia, multiple system atrophy develops in people over middle age. It can lead to cardiac problems, low blood pressure, erectile dysfunction and loss of bladder control. 
  • Pure autonomic failure: People with this form of dysautonomia experience a fall in blood pressure upon standing and have symptoms including dizziness, fainting, visual problems, chest pain and tiredness. Symptoms are sometimes relieved by lying down and resting.

Prognosis with Dysautonomic Malfunction

No one can be certain what your life will be like with dysautonomia. The symptoms and severity thereof are unique to each person. The course of the condition also changes. Sometimes the symptoms are ever-present, at other times the symptoms can disappear completely.

It’s important to find a healthcare provider who you are comfortable with and who is knowledgeable in the treatment of dysautonomia.

You should also adopt a clean-living lifestyle where you stop smoking and drinking alcohol. You must also eat a healthy well-balanced diet focussing on vegetables and fruit. Ensure you are fully hydrated at all times.

Your Vagus Nerve

By developing an understanding of the workings of your vagus nerve, you may find it possible to work with your nervous system rather than feel trapped when it works against you.

Dr. Arielle Schwartz, Clinical Psychologist

Stimulating my vagus nerve has played a key role in the management of my mental health for many years.

What is the Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve has two bunches of sensory nerve cell bodies, and it connects the brainstem to the body. It allows the brain to monitor and receive information about several of the body’s different functions.

This nerve feedback is known as proprioception.

Furthermore, the vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the human body.

The word “vagus” comes from the Latin language and means “wanderer” because the Vagus Nerve wanders all over the body in order to reach the critical organs.

The Vagus Nerve connects the brain to many critical organs including the heart, intestines, stomach and lungs.

The vagus nerve is also an important part of your parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system. It influences your breathing, digestive function and heart rate, all of which have a huge impact on your mental health.

But the important property is the “tone” of your vagus nerve.

Vagal tone is an internal biological process that indicates the activity of the vagus nerve.

Increasing your vagal tone activates the parasympathetic nervous system, and having a higher vagal tone means that your body can relax faster after stress.

In 2010, researchers discovered a positive feedback loop between high vagal tone, positive emotions, and good physical health. In other words, the more you increase your vagal tone, the more your physical and mental health will improve.

The vagal response reduces stress. It reduces our heart rate and blood pressure. It changes the function of certain parts of the brain, stimulates digestion, all those things that happen when we are relaxed.

Dr. Mladen Golubic, MD, Medical Director of the Cleveland Clinic
Human Skull

In Summary

Dysautonomia relates to a wide range of conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system.

Symptoms can include fainting, cardiovascular issues, and breathing problems. It is also linked to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

Dysautonomia comes in many forms, but they all involve the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

The ANS is responsible for maintaining a constant internal temperature, regulating breathing patterns, keeping blood pressure steady, and moderating the heart rate. It is also involved in pupil dilation, sexual arousal, and excretion.

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