Dysautonomia is an incurable chronic illness used to describe several different medical conditions that causes the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) to malfunction. 70 million people suffer from Dysautonomia, yet it is widely unknown, leaving people to go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for years.
The ANS controls everything in the body that you do not have to consciously think about. When the ANS is not working properly, it disrupts one's heart rate, blood pressure, digestion systems, dilation, kidney functions, temperature control, the constriction of blood vessels, and the list goes on.
The ANS is divided into two branches: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS is the "fight or flight" zone, and the PNS is the "rest and digest" zone.
When working properly, the ANS goes unnoticed, stabilizing our bodies and ensuring that blood and oxygen remain in the upper half of the body when we stand.
When the ANS does not function as it should, the symptoms are seemingly endless, resulting in lightheadedness, fainting, unstable blood pressure, abnormal heart rates, malnutrition, numbness in the hands and feet, severe pain, and extreme fatigue, just to name a few. For example, standing upright, walking, or waiting in a line oftentimes produce symptoms, making these simple tasks beyond reach for those living with Dysautonomia. Many are unable to work, attend school, or in severe cases, get out of bed without fainting.
Dysautonomia can also occur as a secondary illness to many other medical conditions that can oftentimes be the underlying cause of Dysautonomia itself. Some of these conditions include, diabetes, celiac disease, crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, ehler's-danlo's syndrome, mast cell disorders, chiari malformation, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, lupus, parkinson's, fibromyalgia, physical trauma, surgery, pregnancy, and vitamin deficiencies.
Common Types of Dysautonomia
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) is a common form of Dysautonomia, affecting 3 million Americans. POTS causes lightheadedness, fainting, tachycardia, chest pains, shortness of breath, GI issues, nausea, migraines, shaking, exercise intolerance, temperature sensitivity, extreme fatigue, sleep disturbances, among many other symptoms. While these symptoms can happen at any moment, they are exacerbated by standing upright.
The video below from Dysautonomia International defines POTS and its common symptoms. It also presents a short synopsis of the illness and the debilitating symptoms, as it sometimes difficult for POTS patients to describe how they are suffering physically.
Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS) or Vasovagal Syncope
NCS is the failure of the ANS to properly regulate blood pressure and heart rate. When your body overreacts to certain triggers, your heart rate and blood pressure drop suddenly, leading to reduced blood flow to the brain and causing you to briefly lose consciousness.
At this moment, a "syncope" episode begins. Syncope is the medical term for fainting or passing out. There are people who experience syncope daily or once or twice in their life, but the effects are debilitating because it leaves you facing extreme fatigue and nausea.
To put this into perspective, think about how you might feel after running a marathon or doing an ironman. Yet, NCS patients only have to stand to feel this exhaustion.
NCS impacts tens of millions of people all over the world causing them to have a very poor quality of life with little independence.