Dysautonomia is a medical term utilized for a group of complex conditions that are caused by a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS regulates all of the unconscious functions of the body, including the cardiovascular system, gastrointestinal system, metabolic system, and endocrine system. A malfunction of the ANS can cause debilitating symptoms and may pose significant challenges for effective medical treatment.

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 autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, fibromyalgia, 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. Excessive sympathetic activity can present as hypertension or a rapid pulse rate.

The symptoms of dysautonomia conditions are usually “invisible” to the untrained eye. The afflicted person may visually appear to be as healthy as those around him. The manifestations are occurring internally, and although the symptoms are verified medically they are often not visible on the outside. Symptoms can be unpredictable, may come and go, appear in any combination, and may vary in severity. Often patients will become more symptomatic after a stressor or a physical activity. Patients may find themselves involuntarily limiting their life-style activities in order to compensate for the conditions.

The best test for dysautonomia is an Autonomic EMG. This includes cardiovascular testing (a tilt table test and breathing test), QSART (sweat response, cold and touch sensitivity tests), and either a muscle or skin biopsy.

Common Symptoms:


  • Seizure like activity
  • Headache/migraine
  • Cognitive impairment (may include difficulties concentrating, brain fog, memory or word recall)
  • Anxiety
  • Easily over-stimulated
  • Feeling “wired”
  • Feeling detached from surroundings


  • Neuropathic pain (nerve pain)
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Dizziness
  • Disequilibrium
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting or near fainting
  • Blackouts
  • Hyperreflexia (overreactive reflexes)


  • Generalized weakness
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Tremulousness (uncontrolled shaking of body parts)
  • Low back pain
  • Aching neck and shoulders
  • Muscle aches and/or joint pains
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Myofascial pain (the connective tissue that covers the muscles)

Digestion & Elimination

  • Delayed gastric emptying
  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating after meals
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bladder dysfunction
  • Polyuria (excessive urination)

Temperature Regulation

  • Clamminess
  • Flushing
  • Intolerance to heat
  • Feeling cold all over
  • Cold hands (and often feet & nose)
  • Chills
  • Loss of sweating
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of sweating and excessive sweating

Reproductive System

  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Loss of sex drive

Heart & Lungs

  • Shortness of breath (air hunger)
  • Chest discomfort and/or pain
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart beat)
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Postprandial hypotension (low bp after meals)
  • Low blood pressure upon standing
  • Blood pooling in limbs
  • Palpitations (irregular heart beat that causes conscious awareness of its beating)
  • Narrowing of upright pulse pressure
  • Hypovolemia (low blood volume)
  • High blood pressure
  • Hyperventilation
  • Reduced pulse pressure upon standing
  • Arrhythmias (irregular heart beats)

Eyes & Ears

  • Pupillary dysfunction
  • Blurred vision
  • Tunnel vision
  • Noise sensitivity
  • Light Sensitivity


  • Fatigue (which can be disabling)
  • Sleep disorders (can cause unrefreshing sleep and an increased need for sleep)
  • Chemical sensitivities (May have multiple chemical sensitivity and can be very sensitive to medications – may only need small doses)
  • Food allergies/sensitivities (some foods seem to make symptoms worse)
  • Swollen nodules/lymph nodes
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Polydipsia (excessive thirst)





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