Dysautonomia describes a group of conditions affecting your autonomic nervous system. This system controls automatic functions of the nervous system, like breathing and heartbeat. Certain changes in these functions can affect survival and life expectancy.

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Many conditions involved with dysautonomia are not life threatening. However, some forms are progressively debilitating or can impair your quality of life.

How much dysautonomia may affect your overall life span depends on the specific form of dysautonomia and other health conditions you may have.

This article reviews what types of dysautonomia are most likely to affect life span or lower your quality of life, and what you can to do prevent progression.

Learn more about dysautonomia.

There are 15 recognized types of dysautonomia. Many of them are rare. The most common types are outlined below.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)

POTS may affect 1–3 million people in the United States, according to a 2021 research article. Many are female. The average age of onset is 14 years, according to self-reports.

Common features are a heart rate that increases and stays high when you’re standing and orthostatic intolerance, which is when a change in body position is difficult and uncomfortable.

Doctors usually diagnose it with a tilt table test. Symptoms include:

  • dizziness
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • brain fog

Orthostatic hypotension

Orthostatic hypotension and POTS are similar but are not diagnosed together.

With orthostatic hypotension, your heart rate increases when standing and your blood pressure drops.

With POTS, there is no blood pressure drop, but for orthostatic hypotension, systolic blood pressure decreases by 20 mm Hg or more.

This can cause symptoms like:

  • fainting
  • lightheadedness
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • nausea
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations

Research estimates that 6% of people are thought to have orthostatic hypotension in the United States. The prevalence increases with age to 20% in people older than 60 years.

Vasovagal syncope

Vasovagal syncope is fainting that occurs when your autonomic nervous system loses vascular tone, causing a sudden, but usually brief, drop in blood pressure and heart rate.

It causes dizziness, which can lead to a syncopal episode or a brief loss of consciousness. Loss of consciousness usually only lasts 1–2 minutes, but fatigue can remain for hours after.

Vasovagal syncope is usually episodic and doesn’t always recur.

Up to 40% of people will faint at least once in their lifetime, but experts believe vasovagal syncope causes only about 14% of those events.

The following factors usually trigger vasovagal syncope:

  • standing in place for 30 seconds or more without moving
  • pain
  • emotional distress
  • other disturbing stimuli

Besides fainting, many people experience things like feelings of warmth, sweating, or nausea with vasovagal syncope.

Most of these dysautonomia forms affect your quality of life more than your life span.

The condition and its complications aren’t usually life threatening. You can manage many of them with medications, lifestyle strategies, or both.

You may need to avoid certain activities or condition your body to withstand different exercises.

In general, most dysautonomias are not fatal as long as you can avoid injuries from fainting.

Some forms of dysautonomia are more progressive and debilitating in nature, but these are rare. Some examples include:

Both conditions feature progressive and serious damage to the nervous system, nerve cells, or both. Symptoms can be severe or even life threatening. Both conditions are associated with a decrease in life expectancy.

While there is no cure for dysautonomia, you can manage it with therapies, medications, and lifestyle strategies.

Finding the treatments that work best for you can help you improve your quality of life. Rarely does dysautonomia shorten your life span.

Can you live a full life with dysautonomia?

Yes, you can life a full life with most forms of dysautonomia. You may have to adjust how or when you do certain activities or make other diet and lifestyle changes to better support your overall health.

In some cases, severe neurological damage causes some forms of dysautonomia, and these conditions are known to reduce life span. These conditions are rare and often hereditary.

What kinds of things trigger dysautonomia?

Exercise, heat, stress, or a change in body position can trigger symptoms of dysautonomia in people with the condition. The symptoms you feel and when you feel them will vary depending on your specific type of dysautonomia.

Can dysautonomia be cured?

There is no cure for dysautonomia, but there are many therapies and medications you can try to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Most of the time, people’s experiences with dysautonomia are not exactly the same. Treatments will vary from person to person.

Dysfunction of certain regions of the nervous system can cause dysautonomia. It can produce symptoms that can make your life harder but not necessarily shorter.

Most forms of dysautonomia are not fatal, and you can live a full life with the right treatment. Some forms of dysautonomia are progressive and have severe consequences, but these conditions are rare.