Dysautonomia is an umbrella medical term utilized for a group of complex conditions that are caused by a dysfunction 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 dysfunction of the ANS can cause debilitating symptoms and may pose significant challenges for effective medical treatment.
Orthostatic intolerance (the inability to remain upright) is a hallmark of the various forms of dysautonomia.
Dysautonomia conditions can range from mild to extremely debilitating. Each dysautonomia case is unique and treatment must be individualized and may include pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods. Patients should be evaluated by a physician who is well-versed in the recent treatment modalities.
To diagnose dysautonomia, a tilt-table test is usually performed. This test evaluates how the patient regulates blood pressure in response to simple stresses. Tilt-table testing involves placing the patient on a special table with a foot-support. The table is tilted upward while various machines monitor blood pressure, electrical impulses in the heart and oxygen levels.
The following diagnostic terms may be issued to children with forms of dysautonomia:
- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
- Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS)
- Vasovagal Syncope
- Neurally Mediated Hypotension (NMH)
- Post-Viral Dysautonomia
- Familial Dysautonomia (FD)
- Non-Familial Dysautonomia
- Generalized Dysautonomia
The symptoms of dysautonomia conditions are usually “invisible” to the untrained eye. 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 exposure to heat, stressors, excitement or physical activity. Patients may find themselves involuntarily limiting their lifestyle activities and isolating themselves in order to compensate for the conditions.
Dysautonomia conditions are widely unknown to society at large. As a result, there exists a great ignorance about these conditions. Most people do not realize the impact such conditions have on those afflicted and their families. Patients who have dysautonomia struggle with some of the most basic functions that healthy people take for granted, beginning with just getting out of bed in the morning. Each day and each moment brings new and unexpected obstacles.
Determination, fortitude and tenacity are traits that are absolutely necessary for coping or obtaining any degree of recovery. Despite the betrayal of an uncooperative body, the most perseverant patients tend to face life with profound courage and incredible strength. Provided with a proper support system and responsible medical care, the majority of youth onset patients can go on to become productive participants in society and can lead full and successful lives.