Dysautonomia is a disorder of your autonomic nervous system — the system that controls involuntary functions such as breathing. There’s no cure, but there are ways to manage this condition and its symptoms.
Dysautonomia is a disorder that develops in the part of your nervous system that controls involuntary functions such as your heartbeat and breathing. Conditions that fall into this category can be passed through families or develop as the result of other health conditions, such as autoimmune diseases.
There are many forms of dysautonomia. Healthcare professionals will need to tailor your treatment to your specific form of the condition, its cause, and your symptoms.
This article will explore some of the most common treatment options for various types of dysautonomia, as well as how you can adjust your lifestyle to cope with your symptoms.
There is no singular treatment for dysautonomia. Some types of dysautonomia, including postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and multisystem atrophy, can cause symptoms such as orthostatic hypotension (low blood pressure and lightheadedness when rising from a sitting or lying position), a rapid heart rate, dizziness, and constipation.
Specifically, medications are often used to:
- increase the volume of fluid your body maintains
- decrease your heart rate
- constrict your blood vessels to maintain adequate blood pressure
Possible medications include fludrocortisone (for fluid volume support), beta-blockers (to regulate heart rate), and midodrine (to constrict blood vessels).
But medications are not usually the first choice for treating dysautonomia. In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any official treatment for POTS, and midodrine and droxidopa are the only FDA-approved medications to treat orthostatic hypotension.
Other medications are usually used off-label based on the effects they have in managing similar conditions.
Medications to avoid if you have dysautonomia
Medications can help treat dysautonomia, but it’s important to avoid any medications or substances that can make your symptoms worse. Like your treatment options, the medications you need to avoid will be unique to you.
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- calcium channel blockers
- tricyclic antidepressants
If you’re already taking any of these at the time of your dysautonomia diagnosis, or if you suspect you have a form of dysautonomia, talk with your healthcare professional about all your medications.
Do not stop taking any medication before talking with a healthcare professional, since some need to be stopped gradually with medical supervision.
Types of dysautonomia
There are many forms of dysautonomia, and several types and their symptoms can overlap. Here are some of the forms of dysautonomia that have been identified:
- orthostatic hypotension
- vasovagal syncope
- inappropriate sinus tachycardia
- autoimmune autonomic ganglionopathy
- baroreflex failure
- familial dysautonomia
- pure autonomic failure
- multiple system atrophy
Some types are more common than others. While they all involve the autonomic nervous system, each condition has its own risk factors, causes, symptoms, and treatment recommendations.
If you have one or more of these conditions, you can talk with your healthcare professional about the best options for managing your specific conditions.
There are no consistent treatment guidelines for even the most common forms of dysautonomia, such as POTS. Treatment options will be highly personalized and guided by symptoms and diagnostic test results. The dosing and duration of any treatment you receive will depend on your response to that treatment.
There is little evidence to support an effective treatment strategy that can cure the underlying cause or stop the condition itself from progressing. That’s why treatment for dysautonomia is focused on treating symptoms.
Understanding your body and how you feel is a big part of ongoing dysautonomia management. The first choice for treatment of these disorders is a multisystem approach targeting overall health, activity, and trigger avoidance.
Exercise conditioning is one way you can help manage dysautonomia without medication. You will typically do this under the medical supervision of a trainer or physical therapist due to the risk of experiencing symptoms during exercise.
The goal of these therapies is to help your body gradually adjust to new and different levels of activity, testing out adjustments you can make to compensate for your symptoms.
Education is another big part of dysautonomia management. This includes knowing what kinds of activities or events trigger your symptoms and how you can manage or avoid these triggers with minimal disruption to your quality of life.
Education and exercise are combined to help you find the right nutrition — usually increased water and salt intake — and the right activities to manage your symptoms. A healthcare professional can help you develop
- wearing compression garments
- raising the head of your bed
- exercising regularly under medical guidance
a high salt diet
- drinking plenty of water
- using abdominal binders
- eating more frequent, smaller meals
- avoiding heat or steam, such as in hot showers
- getting enough sleep
- limiting caffeine intake
- avoiding energy drinks
- limiting alcohol consumption
- managing stress
Your healthcare professional may also closely monitor your water and salt intake.
While these tips are generally helpful for managing dysautonomia, you and your healthcare professional will have to monitor your response to these lifestyle changes so you can choose the ones that are most beneficial for you.
Conditions that fall under the umbrella of dysautonomia can decrease the quality of life for those who live with them. Even with treatment, you may not be able to do certain activities. Additionally, medications you take to help manage your symptoms could cause other symptoms or side effects.
No two people experience dysautonomia the same way, and no two people have the same treatment or outlook. Dysautonomic conditions often occur with other conditions — usually autoimmune conditions such as celiac disease, lupus, and Guillain-Barré syndrome.
There is no cure for dysautonomia, and the overall goal of treatment is to help you have more good days than bad days — but be aware that bad days will still happen. Having a good support system and knowing when to ask for help can help you manage your dysautonomia while maintaining a better quality of life.
Dysautonomia does not yet have a cure, and no single medication is recommended for all these conditions. While the various forms of dysautonomia have some common features, these conditions can affect each person differently, so each person needs to manage their symptoms with a personalized approach.
Treatment usually involves a combination of:
- exercise training
- dietary changes
- trigger avoidance
- medications (for some people)
You can talk with your healthcare professional about the treatment plan that’s best for your individual needs.