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Autonomic Neuropathy

What is the autonomic nervous system?

The nervous system is the communication system between the brain and the rest of the body. The autonomic nervous system are the nerves that regulates the functioning of the internal organs. It is part of the peripheral nervous system (meaning outside the brain and spinal cord). 

The autonomic nervous system has two parts - the sympathetic system and the parasympathetic system.

The sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system regulates the flight-or-fight responses. It also performs such tasks as relaxing the bladder, speeding up heart rate and dilating eye pupils.

The parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system helps maintain normal body functions and conserves physical resources. This division also performs such tasks as controlling the bladder, slowing down heart rate and constricting eye pupils.

See the diagrams below for more information about what each of them does.

Sympathetic Nervous SystemParasympathetic Nervous System

What is autonomic neuropathy?

Autonomic neuropathy is nerve damage to an autonomic nerve or nerves. This damage interrupts signals between the brain and the internal organs. This can cause problems with the functioning of one or more of these organs and their function.

The degree and type of problem create varies. In some people, the problem may be subclinical (you donít notice it). In other people, symptoms may be disabling. 

This nerve damage can continue to get worse if the cause is not found and corrected.

They symptoms of autonomic neuropathy vary depending on the cause, and on which nerves are affected.

What are some of the conditions that this type of neuropathy can create?

Heart:
  

Autonomic neuropathy interferes with the nerve impulses that regulate blood pressure and heart rate. Due to this, blood pressure may drop sharply after sitting or standing causing dizziness or fainting. 

A person may also not be able to feel angina (chest pain) which is a warning sign of heart disease. 

It can cause abnormal heart rate or rhythm, or high blood pressure.

Lungs

It can cause shortness of breath with activity or exercise.

Eyes:

It can cause the pupils not to dilate, or sluggish pupil reaction. This makes it difficult to adjust from light to dark and causing problems with driving at night.

Digestive System:

It can cause problems with the stomach and intestines and thus with digestion.

It can cause swallowing problems. 

It can cause the stomach to empty too slowly. It can give the feeling of being full after only a few bites and can cause vomiting of undigested foods. 

It can cause the blood sugar levels to fluctuate. 

It can cause a swollen abdomen. 

When the bowels are affected, it can cause either constipation or diarrhea and can cause problems controlling bowel movements.

Urinary tract:

Nerve damage can prevent the bladder from emptying completely. When this happens bacteria can grow more easily resulting in infection. 

It can cause urinary incontinence. A person might not know when the bladder is full. It can cause difficulty when trying to urinate and can cause leaking urine.

Sexual Response:

Nerve damage can result in gradual loss of sexual response in both men and women. 

It can also result in erectile dysfunction in men and vaginal dryness in women.

Skin Dryness and Sweating:

Nerve damage of the nerves to the skin can affect the activity of the sweat glands. This can make it difficult for the body to regulate the body temperature by producing adequate perspiration. It can create heat intolerance. 

It can also create profuse sweating at night or while eating. I

It can cause changes in the skin texture, moisture and oiliness of the skin. It can result in dryness, thickening and cracking of the skin.

What causes autonomic neuropathy?

Neuropathy is nerve damage, and anything that can cause nerve damage can cause autonomic neuropathy. It all depends on which nerve is damaged. Most often autonomic neuropathy happens along with another neuropathy, but sometimes autonomic nerve damage can occur by itself without other nerve involvement.

The causes of neuropathy are listed here:

What are the Factors that Cause Nerve Damage

What can you do about Nerve Damage?

No matter what the cause or what nerve is affected, Neuropathy is basically the same Ė the nerve has been damaged.

Read: Neuropathy for more information.

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