Autonomic neuropathy is a nerve disorder that affects involuntary body functions, including heart rate, blood pressure, perspiration and digestion.
It isn't a specific disease, instead autonomic neuropathy refers to damage to the autonomic nerves. This damage disrupts signals between the brain and portions of the autonomic nervous system, such as the heart, blood vessels and sweat glands, resulting in decreased or abnormal performance of one or more involuntary body functions.
Autonomic neuropathy can be a complication of a number of diseases and conditions. And some medications can cause autonomic neuropathy as a side effect. Signs, symptoms and treatment of autonomic neuropathy vary depending on the cause, and on which nerves are affected.
Signs and symptoms of autonomic neuropathy vary, depending on which parts of your autonomic nervous system are affected. They may include:
When to see a doctor
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with type 2 diabetes be screened every year for autonomic neuropathy starting as soon as they receive their diabetes diagnosis. For people with type 1 diabetes, the ADA advises annual screening beginning five years after being diagnosed with diabetes.
Autonomic neuropathy can be caused by a large number of diseases and conditions or as a side effect of treatment for diseases unrelated to the nervous system. Some common causes of autonomic neuropathy include:
Factors that may increase your risk of autonomic neuropathy include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care physician. However, you may then be referred to a doctor who specializes in disorders of the nerves (neurologist). In addition, depending on the part of your body that's affected by autonomic neuropathy, you may need to see other specialists, such as a cardiologist for problems with your blood pressure or heart rate, or a gastroenterologist for digestive difficulties.
Because appointments can be brief, and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to arrive well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For autonomic neuropathy, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Autonomic neuropathy is a possible complication of a number of diseases, and the tests you'll need often depend on whether or not you have known risk factors for autonomic neuropathy.
When you have known risk factors for autonomic neuropathy
When you don't have risk factors for autonomic neuropathy
Treatments and drugs
Treatment of autonomic neuropathy includes:
For women with sexual symptoms, your doctor may recommend:
Heart rhythm and blood pressure symptoms
There is no medication to increase sweating if you have lost the ability to sweat.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Several alternative medicine treatments may help people with autonomic neuropathy. However, because autonomic neuropathy is a serious condition, discuss any new treatments with your doctor to ensure that they won't interfere with treatments you're already receiving or cause you any harm.
Coping and support
Living with a chronic condition presents daily challenges. Some of these suggestions may make it easier for you to cope:
While certain inherited diseases that put you at risk of developing autonomic neuropathy can't be prevented, you can slow the onset or progression of symptoms by taking good care of your health in general and managing your medical conditions. Follow your doctor's advice on healthy living to control diseases and conditions, which may include these recommendations:
Last Updated: 2010-04-15
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