Dysautonomia is often caused by an underlying condition but can also be due to medications or toxins. Genetics also plays a role in some types of autonomic dysfunction.

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Dysautonomia occurs when your autonomic nervous system (ANS) doesn’t perform its regular function. Your ANS regulates vital but unconscious body systems, such as digestion and breathing.

There are several types of dysautonomia. Some of the most well-known kinds of dysautonomia include:

There are also several possible causes of autonomic dysfunction. Let’s take a look at some of the most common.

There are several types of dysautonomia that you can inherit, known as hereditary sensory and autonomic neuropathies (HSANs). These conditions are more likely to occur in people who carry specific genes.

Among the most well-defined HSANs is familial dysautonomia, also known as HSAN type 3 or Riley-Day syndrome.

Familial dysautonomia is more common among people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage but can also occur in people of other backgrounds. It’s present from birth and is progressive. Signs of familial dysautonomia include a lack of muscle tone and changes in sensitivity to pain and temperature.

Several autoimmune conditions can cause dysautonomia, including:

These conditions cause many different symptoms that affect the nervous system, and dysautonomia can be one of the many effects. Some people with these conditions might not experience dysautonomia at all. For others, dysautonomia can be the main symptom.

Some research suggests that POTS is itself an autoimmune condition, but the evidence isn’t yet conclusive.

Neurological diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative conditions, can be common causes of dysautonomia.

MSA is an atypical Parkinsonian disorder that results in progressive loss of nerve cells in your brain and spinal cord. This loss can lead to changes in the autonomic and central nervous systems.

Traumatic brain injuries, including concussions, can result in dysautonomia and symptoms such as changes in heart rate.

Diabetes may damage the nerves that regulate your internal organs, specifically from high glucose levels. This condition is called autonomic neuropathy, and it can cause various symptoms depending on which internal organ systems are affected.

Autonomic neuropathy can affect your:

Among people who have POTS, there’s a deficiency of some vital nutrients, such as vitamin B12, vitamin D, and iron. Some researchers propose treating some symptoms of POTS with nutritional therapy.

Some infections may lead to autonomic changes. Recent research suggests that post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection, more commonly known as “long COVID,” may be a form of dysautonomia.

People with long COVID may experience breathlessness, chest pain, and heart palpitations. These symptoms may intensify when standing up.

Other infectious causes of dysautonomia include:

Just as with physical trauma, emotional trauma may also lead to dysautonomia.

Your ANS can be divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which work together to help you prepare for and respond to stress. According to 2020 research, post-traumatic stress disorder can result in an imbalance between these two systems.

Cancerous tumors can affect your brain or spinal cord, which may lead to autonomic dysfunction. A tumor near your hypothalamus, pituitary gland, or brainstem is especially likely to disrupt the ANS functions of these structures.

Paraneoplastic syndromes are rare conditions in which your body mounts an immune response to cancers in other parts of your body. The response can cause your immune system to attack healthy cells in your nervous system by mistake.

Some medications, such as amiodarone (Amiodon) and chemotherapy drugs, may lead to dysautonomia. Several medications might also worsen orthostatic hypotension, such as:

Toxic substances, such as alcohol, can lead to dysautonomia. Poisoning from heavy metals, such as lead, may also be a cause.

Symptoms of dysautonomia

Because of the variety of causes and types of dysautonomia, there are numerous symptoms. Some of the most common include:

  • trouble standing still
  • lightheadedness
  • excessive fatigue
  • chest discomfort or heart palpitations
  • breathing difficulties
  • brain fog
  • gastrointestinal discomfort
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Here’s an overview of some common queries people ask about dysautonomia.

Can I prevent dysautonomia?

Some types of dysautonomia, such as familial dysautonomia, are genetic and can’t be prevented. You can prevent others, such as diabetic autonomic neuropathy, by controlling the underlying condition.

What can trigger an episode of dysautonomia?

People with POTS can experience flare-ups, often with certain triggers such as menstruation, eating, overheating, dehydration, alcohol, exercise, or too much rest.

Can anxiety cause dysautonomia?

Symptoms of anxiety can feel like dysautonomia, but anxiety doesn’t cause dysautonomia. Physical symptoms, such as a racing heart rate, pounding heartbeat, and rapid breathing, are common in POTS and anxiety.

Some research proposes that anxiety isn’t more common among people who have POTS, but it can seem that way because of the overlap in symptoms.

Can dysautonomia go away?

Depending on the underlying cause, treatment can help you manage and reduce symptoms of dysautonomia. A doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or alter your treatment plan. Treating an underlying condition, such as a tumor, is critical to treating dysautonomia.

Dysautonomia is an acquired or inherited condition with a wide range of possible causes.

Some forms of dysautonomia develop because of your genetics. Other forms may result from trauma, an infection, or a chronic condition. Lifestyle factors, such as diet, alcohol consumption, and exposure to toxins, may also play a role.

Treating dysautonomia often involves managing the underlying condition, making lifestyle changes, and possibly modifying medication use.