What is Dysautonomia?
Dysautonomia refers to a disorder of autonomic nervous
system (ANS) function. Most physicians view dysautonomia in terms of failure of
the sympathetic or parasympathetic components of the ANS, but dysautonomia
involving excessive ANS activities also can occur. Dysautonomia can be local, as
in reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or generalized, as in pure autonomic failure.
It can be acute and reversible, as in Guillain-Barre syndrome, or chronic and
progressive. Several common conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism can
include dysautonomia. Dysautonomia also can occur as a primary condition or in
association with degenerative neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease.
Other diseases with generalized, primary dysautonomia include multiple system
atrophy and familial dysautonomia. Hallmarks of generalized dysautonomia due to
sympathetic failure are impotence (in men) and a fall in blood pressure during
standing (orthostatic hypotension). Excessive sympathetic activity can present
as hypertension or a rapid pulse rate.
Is there any treatment?
There is no cure for dysautonomia. Secondary forms may
improve with treatment of the underlying disease. In many cases treatment of
primary dysautonomia is symptomatic and supportive. Measures to combat
orthostatic hypotension include elevation of the head of the bed, frequent small
meals, a high-salt diet, and drugs such as fludrocortisone, midodrine, and ephedrine.
What is the prognosis?
The outlook for patients with dysautonomia depends on
the particular diagnostic category. Patients with chronic, progressive,
generalized dysautonomia in the setting of central nervous system degeneration
have a generally poor long-term prognosis. Death can occur from pneumonia, acute
respiratory failure, or sudden cardiopulmonary arrest in such patients.
What research is being done?
The NINDS supports and conducts research on
dysautonomia. This research aims to discover ways to diagnose, treat, and,
ultimately, prevent these disorders.
National Dysautonomia Research Foundation
P.O. Box 301
Red Wing, MN 55066-0301
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
P.O. Box 1968
(55 Kenosia Avenue)
Danbury, CT 06813-1968
Tel: 203.744.0100 Voice Mail 800.999.NORD (6673)
315 W. 39th Street, Suite 701
New York, NY 10018
Familial Dysautonomia Hope Foundation, Inc. (FD Hope)
121 South Estes Drive, Suite 205-D
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-2868
Shy-Drager/Multiple System Atrophy Support Group, Inc.
8311 Brier Creek Parkway, Suite 105-434
Raleigh, NC 27617
Dysautonomia Youth Network of America, Inc.
1301 Greengate Court
Waldorf, MD 20601
Source: National Institutes of Health; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke NINDS