Dysautonomia refers to a disorder of autonomic nervous system (ANS) function that generally involves failure of the sympathetic or parasympathetic components of the ANS, but dysautonomia involving excessive or overactive ANS actions also can occur. Dysautonomia can be local, as in reflex sympathetic dystrophy, or generalized, as in pure autonomic failure. It can be acute and reversible, as in Guillain-Barre syndrome, or chronic and progressive. Several common conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism can include dysautonomia. Dysautonomia also can occur as a primary condition or in association with degenerative neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease. Other diseases with generalized, primary dysautonomia include multiple system atrophy and familial dysautonomia. Hallmarks of generalized dysautonomia due to sympathetic failure are impotence (in men) and a fall in blood pressure during standing (orthostatic hypotension). Excessive sympathetic activity can present as hypertension or a rapid pulse rate.
There is usually no cure for dysautonomia. Secondary forms may improve with treatment of the underlying disease. In many cases treatment of primary dysautonomia is symptomatic and supportive. Measures to combat orthostatic hypotension include elevation of the head of the bed, water bolus (rapid infusion of water given intravenously), a high-salt diet, and drugs such as fludrocortisone and midodrine.
The outlook for individuals with dysautonomia depends on the particular diagnostic category. People with chronic, progressive, generalized dysautonomia in the setting of central nervous system degeneration have a generally poor long-term prognosis. Death can occur from pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, or sudden cardiopulmonary arrest.
The NINDS supports and conducts research on dysautonomia. This research aims to discover ways to diagnose, treat, and, ultimately, prevent these disorders.
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National Dysautonomia Research Foundation
Non-profit foundation established to help those afflicted with any of the various forms of dysautonomia. Provides a support network for affected individuals and family members by providing information on the various forms of dysautonomia, as well as providing contacts to other organizations that may be of assistance.
P.O. Box 301
Red Wing, MN 55066-0301
Tel: Red Wing
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD)
Federation of voluntary health organizations dedicated to helping people with rare "orphan" diseases and assisting the organizations that serve them. Committed to the identification, treatment, and cure of rare disorders through programs of education, advocacy, research, and service.
55 Kenosia Avenue
Danbury, CT 06810
Non-profit organization that supports medical research grants and clinical care; provides information; and offers chapters nationwide and overseas.
315 W. 39th Street
New York, NY 10018
Tel: New York
Familial Dysautonomia Hope Foundation, Inc. (FD Hope)
Non-profit organization that works to expand and accelerate research towards a cure for familial dysautonomia and to improve the lives of children and adults challenged by the disease. Funds research programs, provides a support network for patients and families, and promotes education and awareness in the medical community and public.
121 South Estes Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27514-2868
Tel: Chapel Hill