What is Dysautonomia?
Dysautonomia is a general term used to describe a breakdown, or failure of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls much of your involuntary functions. Symptoms are wide ranging and can include problems with the regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature and perspiration. Other symptoms include fatigue, lightheadedness, feeling faint or passing out (syncope), weakness and cognitive impairment.
Autonomic dysfunction can occur as a secondary condition of another disease process, like diabetes, or as a primary disorder where the autonomic nervous system is the only system impacted. These conditions are often misdiagnosed.
Over one million Americans are impacted with a primary autonomic system disorder. The more common forms of these conditions include Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) / Orthostatic Intolerance (OI), Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS), Pure Autonomic Failure (PAF) and Multiple Systems Atrophy (MSA).
The autonomic nervous system is the "automatic" or "unconscious" nervous system. It controls and regulates virtually all of our body functions and systems, such as blood pressure, pulse, body temperature, breathing, sweating, bowel function and sleep patterns. The autonomic nervous system is made up of two parts: the sympathetic nervous system tends to increase and accelerate or speed up body functions, the parasympathetic nervous system tends to slow down, relax, and put the breaks on body functions. In a normal situation, the two divisions of the autonomic nervous system work together to control these functions in a continuous manner reacting normally to stimulus.When the autonomic nervous system becomes "out of balance," it is similar to a car that needs a tune-up.
When this occurs, these body functions may either speed up or slow down at inappropriate times with a very noticeable effect on the person. This may occur for no apparent reason. You may be sitting quietly at home reading or watching television, driving down the highway or shopping for groceries in a store. The autonomic nervous system suddenly decides to send out a burst of signals to speed up all body processes. When this occurs the symptoms may be extremely severe and frightening.
This faulty regulation of the autonomic system is referred to as "dysautonomia." It may also occur as a response to stress whether it be emotional or physical. Such things as a severe illness, job stress, family problems, buying or building a house, a move cross country, going off to college, having a child and similar type occurrences in our life may trigger the autonomic system to react inappropriately. While these symptoms are extremely frightening, frustrating and uncomfortable, it is not life threatening. However, if left untreated, it may become lifestyle threatening.
Most patients who suffer from mitral valve prolapse syndrome will have dysautonomia as the cause of their symptoms. It is likely that mitral valve prolapse is not the cause of what is going on but the autonomic imbalance or dysautonomia is the actual cause. Why these two things occur together is not entirely clear. IN some cases it is also related to faulty regulation of the body's fluid balance. In other words, patients with this condition generally have a lower than normal blood volume or amount of fluid that circulates through the arteries and veins of the body. This may result in symptoms of dizziness, lightheadedness and low blood pressure. Many times the blood pressure will drop upon standing or arising suddenly from a seated position.
In order to treat the symptoms of this condition it is necessary to understand the autonomic nervous system and why it is working improperly and take appropriate steps to correct these abnormalities.
Things that tend to aggravate dysautonomia include: medications such as over the counter sinus and cold medications, caffeine (whether it be coffee, tea, chocolate, etc.), anything that drops blood volume (such as becoming anemic or sudden blood loss, and other stresses such as illnesses. We also know that at times becoming deconditioned can lead to dysautonomia. Prolonged bed rest following surgery, breaking a leg or something similar can cause dysautonomia. The astronauts who participate in prolonged space shuttle missions tend to exhibit symptoms and physical findings of dysautonomia. Some of the findings and treatment for this condition have been the result of recent research done in connection with the space program.
In summary, mitral valve prolapse may occur alone with no symptoms whatsoever in many patients. Some patients may exhibit only cardiac symptoms, such as an irregular or racing heart beat. Most patients who do not exhibit symptoms of mitral valve prolapse syndrome actually are experiencing dysautonomia. Understanding dysautonomia and its effect on the body and the appropriate ways to treat it will lead to proper methods of clearing up this condition.