Is Autonomic Nerve Damage Causing Your Symptoms?

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with nerve damage, like peripheral neuropathy, you may also experience symptoms of autonomic nerve damage. Autonomic neuropathy often goes undiagnosed because of the wide variety of symptoms. If the symptoms in this article sound familiar, you may want to talk to your provider.

What is it?

Your autonomic system handles all bodily processes you don’t have to think about consciously. Moving, talking, and other actions are things we do because we chose to do them. Without thought, you would lay still and silent. However, without you doing anything, your heart still beats. Your body controls your inner temperature with blood flow, sweat, and shivering. Your body produces hormones, antibodies, and cells as needed. Your bowels digest food, and your liver and kidneys cleanse your body of toxins.

All these bodily functions happen without you consciously directing them, but they still get their marching orders from your brain. Your brain is designed to keep your body in balance between narrow parameters. If you get too hot or cold, you die. You need antibodies to fight off illness and infection. Tiny fluctuations in hormone levels can make you feel better when you don’t feel cheerful or lead to psychosis if you’re out of balance. Nerves throughout the body alert the brain to fluctuations, and your brain works to compensate and bring your body back to normal levels.

What happens when your body is out of balance because a nerve isn’t working, or nerves are misfiring and telling your brain it’s out of balance when it’s not? Your brain overcompensates, and you start experiencing strange symptoms depending on which nerves are affected. Autonomic nerve dysfunction is called dysautonomia.

Which Body Systems May be Affected by Nerve Damage?

Some of the major symptoms affected by dysautonomia include:

  • Cardiovascular- Your heartbeat is irregular, too slow, or too fast. Your blood pressure can be too high or too low, causing damage to blood vessels, organs, and other tissues. You might also have trouble breathing, chest pain, and an inability to get warm or cool off.
  • Gastrointestinal- Your ability to digest food, assimilate nutrients, and eliminate waste can be affected. Symptoms include diarrhea or constipation, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Urinary- The kidneys and bladder can stop working effectively, leading to urinary tract infections and incontinence.
  • Reproductive- You’re unable to experience satisfaction from sexual activity. Because of the wide range of symptoms, it can be challenging to diagnose, often because patients complain about one symptom but don’t bring up others. It’s hard to see a pattern.

Is Dysautonomia Hereditary?

That depends on the underlying cause. When one family member hands down the right (or wrong) genes, it is possible to inherit the condition. It’s called familial dysautonomia. It’s especially prevalent in Jewish and Eastern European ethnic groups.

Other conditions that lead to systemic nerve damage, like diabetes, are also inherited. Diabetic neuropathy, caused by an inability to regulate sugar and insulin, leads to widespread nerve damage, including but not limited to autonomic nerves.

Autonomic nerve damage can also happen spontaneously at any stage of life, but usually after age 50. Because the cause isn’t always straightforward, there’s no clear cure or way to avoid getting dysautonomia.

Is it Possible to Reverse Neuropathy?

Caught in the early stages, nerve damage can be reversible if the underlying cause can be cured or controlled. For example, many individuals with diabetes can control the condition through dietary choices and insulin. When done right, the body can stay in balance, and the nerves have a chance to heal before there is permanent damage.

The prognosis is always better the sooner you get in to see your provider and begin treatment. Waiting can lead to permanent damage, which, in the case of autonomic nerve damage, means permanent disruptions in major bodily functions.

How do I Know if I Have Dysautonomia?

There are tests that help your provider eliminate other possible diagnoses. The best way to get a diagnosis is to keep a journal of how you feel, what happened before you had an adverse reaction, how long it lasted, and if anything gave you relief. Your provider can look at the pattern and better understand the connection between different ailments.

Any condition with widespread nerve damage, like Lupus, Lyme Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, etc., can also lead to autonomic nerve damage. Talk to your provider about all of your symptoms so they have a clearer understanding of how the disease affects you and can help alleviate symptoms.

A Difficult Diagnosis

Talk to your provider if you’re having difficulty getting a diagnosis and think dysautonomia might be the culprit. See if they have any experience dealing with dysautonomia. If not, and if they are unwilling to look into the possibility, consider getting a second opinion from a medical professional familiar with the condition to be on the safe side.


The information, including but not limited to, texts, graphics, images, and other material contained in this article are for informational purposes only. None of the material mentioned is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new care regimen. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read in this article.

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