Dysautonomia 101

Dysautonomia 101 From Lauren Stiles For Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia – Health Rising

Dysautonomia is an umbrella term that means any dysfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).  The ANS controls the involuntary functions of the body like heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, digestion, sweating, kidney function, dilation and constriction of the pupils and more.

Disautonomia Symptoms


There are a number of different medical conditions that are considered to be primary forms of dysautonomia, such as:

  • Neurocardiogenic Syncope
  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
  • Autoimmune Autonomic Ganglionopathy
  • Pure Autonomic Failure
  • Multiple System Atrophy
  • Baroreflex Failure
  • Familial Dysautonomia

Secondary Forms of Dysautonomia

Secondary forms of dysautonomia are diseases and conditions that don’t always cause dysautonomia, but can in some cases.

Many other underlying diseases and conditions can cause damage to the autonomic nerves which results in dysautonomia symptoms

In some cases, no underlying cause of the autonomic neuropathy can be found.  This would be called “idiopathic autonomic neuropathy” or “idiopathic dysautonomia.”

Autonomic neuropathy means that the autonomic nerve fibers have been damaged.  Dysautonomia can refer to the damage that has occurred to these nerves.

Dysautonomia can also refer to a malfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System when the autonomic nerves fibers are intac

Is Dysautonomia Rare?

Dysautonomia might not be well known, and might be misunderstood by a majority of the medical profession, but it is not rare at al

Neurocardiogenic Syncope and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) are relatively common.

As awareness increases within the medical profession, people are getting diagnosed with POTS all over the world and POTS research is now occurring on several continents.

How is Dysautonomia Diagnosed?

Some aspects of dysautonomia can be easily diagnosed based on symptoms and a routine office visit exam that includes checking your pulse and blood pressure lying down, and then after 5-10 minutes of standing still.  This is called a “poor man’s tilt test.

lack of awareness often causes a lengthy delay from the onset of symptoms to the time of diagnosis

How is Dysautonomia Treated?

If no underlying cause can be identified, the goal is to reduce the patients’ symptoms through non-pharmacological methods, lifestyle adaptions, and medication if necessary.  

The specific treatment depends on the symptoms of dysautonomia that the person is experiencing.

Non-Drug Approaches

Common non-pharmacological measures include:

  • increasing salt and fluid intake,
  • wearing compression stockings or an abdominal binder,
  • getting regular reclined exercises like rowing, recumbent biking and swimming (exercise helps build up blood volume, improves hemodynamics, and prevents deconditioning which can make dysautonomia symptoms worse),
  • learning counter-maneuvers that can help prevent a faint from occurring,
  • sleeping with the head of the bead on an incline,
  • eating smaller meals more often throughout the day,
  • reducing intake of refined flours, sugars and other low nutrient high carbohydrate foods,
  • avoiding hot showers,
  • wearing a cooling vest in the summer, and
  • wearing extra layers in the winter.

Medications may be added to help minimize symptoms.  The medications used depend on the particular requirements of each patient, but may include:

  • beta blockers,
  • midodrine,
  • Florinef,
  • clonidine,
  • Mestinon,
  • SSRI or SNRI drugs (not just for their anti-depressive effects, but for their regulation of neurotransmitters used by the autonomic nervous system),
  • octreotide or
  • Provigil.


About the Author: Lauren Stiles, Esq. is the President and co-founder of Dysautonomia International, an all-volunteer 501(c)(3) non-profit that seeks to improves the lives of individuals living with disorders of the autonomic nervous system through research, education, advocacy, and patient empowerment. While working as an environmental attorney based in New York, she took an interest in dysautonomia advocacy after being diagnosed with POTS secondary to Sjögren’s Syndrome in 2011.   
Athletic and healthy, Lauren Stiles was suddenly felled by a mysterious illness in the middle of ski trip that left her unable to walk. It took years, but Lauren’s doctors ultimately found that an autoimmune disease had attacked her autonomic nervous system, which had resulted in the symptoms of dysautonomia. Not wanting anyone else to go through what she did, Lauren created Dysautonomia International in order to bring attention to a prevalent but under diagnosed condition.

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