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Dysautonomia Overview


Dysautonomia means dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is the master regulator of organ function throughout the body. It is involved in the control of heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, respiration, digestion and other vital functions. Dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system can produce the apparent malfunction of the organs it regulates. For this reason, dysautonomia patients often present with numerous, seemingly unrelated maladies.  

There are many different types of dysautonomia and many symptoms that can occur at once or at different times and at different severities, making dysautonomia very difficult to diagnose.  It is also the reason that there is no one treatment plan advised for patients.  Treatment is sculpted to the patient.  However, there are symptoms that are common between patients regardless of the type of dysautonomia.

  • difficulty sitting or standing upright
  • dizziness, vertigo, and syncope (fainting) or pre-syncope
  • fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat
  • chest pain
  • low blood pressure
  • gastrointestinal disturbances
  • nausea
  • visual disturbances
  • weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • mood swings
  • anxiety
  • fatigue and intolerance to exercise
  • migraines
  • sleep pattern issues
  • frequent urination
  • Temperature Regulation Problems and heat intolerance
  • concentration and memory problems (brain fog)
  • poor appetite
  • sensitivity to bright lights and loud noise (irregular pupil dilation) 

Diagnosis frequently requires a specialist familiar with autonomic dysfunction and the various disorders that result.  It is common for diagnosis to take a longer than many other disorders, however with the proper diagnostic testing the type of dysautonomia can be identified and effective treatment prescribed. 

DINET provides informationpersonal stories and articles written by patients about the types of dysautonomia, treatment and living with these chronic illnesses.   This site focuses on the following types of dysautonomia; please note, these are not the only types or subtypes of the disorders described.  Please explore the different categories under Information Resources to find out more about dysautonomia disorders. 

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome

Often more simply referred to as postural tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, this disorder is characterized by the body's inability to make the necessary adjustments to counteract gravity when standing up.

The defining symptom of POTS is an excessive heart rate increment upon standing. However, as you will discover, there are a multitude of other symptoms that often accompany this syndrome. As such, POTS can be a difficult disorder to detect and understand.

Our web site provides an overview of POTS and contains sections on symptoms, mechanisms, causes, tests, myths, links and research. There are also sections with information on what may help or hinder POTS patients. To read more about postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, explore the POTS category in our Information Resource section.

Neurocardiogenic Syncope (NCS)

Sometimes referred to as neurally mediated syncope or vasovagal syncope, this disorder is characterized by an episodic fall in blood pressure and/or heart rate that results in fainting (Robertson, 2002). The disorder occurs intermittently, with patients sometimes reporting good health between episodes.

Our web site provides general information on NCS, and also explores its symptoms, mechanisms, diagnosis and treatment. A page full of links to other neurocardiogenic syncope resources on the Internet is included as well. To read more about neurocardiogenic syncope, explore the  NCS category in the Information Resources section. 

Pure Autonomic Failure (PAF)

A degenerative disease of the peripheral nervous system characterized by a marked fall in blood pressure upon standing (orthostatic hypotension). The orthostatic hypotension leads to symptoms associated with cerebral hypoperfusion, such as dizziness, fainting, visual disturbances and neck pain (Mathias, Mallipeddi & Bleasdale-Barr, 1999). Other symptoms such as chest pain, fatigue and sexual dysfunction may also occur. Symptoms are worse when standing and are sometimes relieved by sitting or lying flat.

Our web site provides a page full of links to pure autonomic failure resources on the Internet.

Multiple System Atrophy/Shy-Drager Syndrome (MSA)

A degenerative disease of the central nervous system, MSA usually becomes apparent when one is in their fifties or sixties. Genitourinary dysfunction, impotence, headache, neck pain, dimming of vision, frequent yawning, orthostatic hypotension, gait disorder, sleep disorders and hoarseness may occur with multiple system atrophy (Polinsky, 1996). Loss of sweating, rectal incontinence, iris atrophy, external ocular palsies (paralysis of eye muscles), rigidity, tremor, fasciculations and wasting of distal muscles may also occur (Rehman, 2001). 

Loss of balance, difficulty moving, loss of fine motor skills, muscle aches and pains, changes (decline) in facial expressions, difficulty chewing or swallowing and a mild decline in intellectual function are among other symptoms patients may experience. (MEDLINEPlus, 2003, Multiple System Atrophy).

MSA is a very serious form of dysautonomia that can be fatal.  

Our website provides a page full of links to multiple system atrophy resources on the Internet.  


1. Mathias, C. J., Mallipeddi, R. and Bleasdale-Barr, K. (1999). Symptoms associated with orthostatic hypotension in pure autonomic failure and multiple system atrophy. Journal of Neurology, 246, (10), 893-898.

2. MEDLINEPlus Heath Information. (2003). Multiple System Atrophy. Retrieved September 8, 2003 from: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000757.htm

3. Polinsky, R. J. (1996). Multiple system atrophy and Shy-Drager syndrome. In Robertson, P. A. Low & R. J. Polinsky (Eds.), Primer on the autonomic nervous system (p. 222). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

4. Rehman H. U. (2001). Multiple system atrophy. Postgraduate Medical Journal.  77, (908), 379-382.

5. Robertson, D. (2002, July). Drug therapy. National Dysautonomia Research Foundation Patient Conference. Washington, D.C.

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