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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dysautonomia is...

Dysautonomia is a blanket term for a family of conditions which involve the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system handles things like swallowing, breathing, the heartbeat, and other important functions which keep the body running smoothly. In a patient with dysautonomia, the autonomic nervous system does not work right, causing problems which can range from occasional dizziness to crippling pains.
Historically, this condition was known as “neurasthenia,” and it was said to appear in people with “weak” nervous systems. As medical science advanced, doctors began to realize that a range of conditions such as Shy-Drager Syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, neurocardiogenic syncope, pure autonomic failure, and Ruley-Day Syndrome actually involved some level of failure on the part of the autonomic nervous system. Although recognition encouraged diagnosis, treatment options are often limited, due to an imperfect understanding of dysautonomia.
An assortment of symptoms are associated with dysautonomia, including dizziness, tachycardia, poor motor coordination, headaches, difficulty swallowing, fainting, indifference to pain, and muscle spasms. Many patients also experience depression, in part because they sometimes have difficulty finding physicians who will treat them. Because the symptoms are often nonspecific and difficult to pin down, doctors may dismiss the patient as a complainer, rather than recognizing that the patient may actually have a medical condition.
Several potential causes for dysautonomia have been identified, including exposure to toxins, genetic inheritance, infections, and injuries. However, no firm cause has been proved to be linked with dysautonomia. Conditions in this family are also difficult to treat, with some patients trying an assortment of medications including pain killers, antidepressants, and drugs to manage heart rhythm.
The severity of dysautonomia varies considerably. Some patients live relatively normal, healthy lives and they are able to be quite active. Others may be bedridden or frequently ill, and in the case of people without a firm diagnosis, family members, employees, and friends may dismiss the severity of the condition. Much more research on dysautonomia is needed to learn more about what causes it and how to manage it.
For patients seeking care, sometimes several doctor visits are required. Some doctors are more receptive than others to non-specific complaints. It can help to visit a neurologist to get an evaluation of nervous system function, or to seek a doctor recommended by an organization which supports dysautonomia patients. Joining a support group or organization can also be very helpful for patients who are trying to cope with a new diagnosis

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