The body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for automatic functions, including controlling your bladder, temperature, heart rate, breathing, and much more. Sometimes, people’s ANS doesn’t work the way that it should. This is called autonomic dysfunction or autonomic neuropathy and affects more than 70 million people worldwide. Cases can be mild to severe but are rarely fatal. However, there are many different types of autonomic dysfunction.
Types of Autonomic Neuropathy
There are a variety of types of autonomic neuropathy. As a whole, they fall under an umbrella term called dysautonomia. They can affect people of all ages and genders and may be due to genetics or occur as a result of injury or illness. Some people may develop the disorder with no known cause, too.
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
Perhaps the most common form of autonomic dysfunction is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome. The most common symptom of this disorder is an abnormal increase in heart rate when standing up. In adults, the heart rate must increase by at least 30 beats per minute to be considered POTS. In teenagers, it must increase by at least 40 beats per minute. Other symptoms of POTS include digestion problems, involuntary body functions, and poor temperature regulation. It is estimated that about 3 million teenagers and adults in the United States have POTS.
Orthostatic Hypotension (OH)
Orthostatic hypotension is a disorder that causes the body’s blood pressure to drop when changing positions, such as sitting down or standing up. It can be acute and only happen a few times, or it can be chronic. Some people with OH don’t know it because they never notice the symptoms. To be considered OH, the blood pressure must drop within three minutes of standing. Other symptoms include blurry vision, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, brain fog, and fatigue. About 6% of the population experiences OH, although it is much more common in people aged 65 or older.
Inappropriate Sinus Tachycardia (IST)
A chronic condition, inappropriate sinus tachycardia occurs when a person’s heart rate is always higher than 100 beats per minute, even when he or she is at rest. The term “sinus” can be misleading, as it has nothing to do with facial sinuses. Instead, the term refers to the sinus heart rhythm, which is the term for a healthy rhythm. To be diagnosed, an individual’s heart rate must be higher than 90 beats per minute for a 24-hour period, including when at rest. Other symptoms may include shortness of breath, exercise intolerance, weakness, and fatigue. Roughly 1% of the population experiences IST.
Vasovagal Syncope (VVS)
Sometimes referred to as neurally mediated syncope (NMS), vasovagal syncope occurs when the ANS cannot maintain vascular tone. Blood pressure goes too low too quickly and often causes a person to faint upon standing. It may also be triggered by emotional stress or physical pain. Other symptoms of VVS include feeling too warm, excessive sweating, nausea, vision blurriness or loss, and changes in hearing. Some people who have VVS also have tremors while they are passed out. Typically, the person will be unconscious for 1-2 minutes. Nearly half of the population will faint at least once in their lives, although females are more likely to do so. Of those cases, about 14% of them are related to VVS.
Autonomic dysfunction disorders affect people of all ages and from all walks of life. They can be acute or chronic but rarely result in death. If you suspect that you are experiencing a form of autonomic neuropathy, talk to your doctor. He or she can assess your symptoms and perform tests to get to the root of the problem and help you create a treatment plan.
About the Author: Carol Evenson is a loving mother of three, an aspiring writer, and a social activist. She enjoys educating and learning and loves sharing her knowledge with her family and friends.
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
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