Understanding Dysautonomia

Dysautonomia symptoms often mimic other health conditions, so getting a diagnosis can be challenging. Depending on your symptoms, a medical workup may include a tilt table test to measure blood pressure and heart function in bed and upright.


Almost any organ system can be affected by dysautonomia, though the most common are neurological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular. Symptoms vary from person to person and can appear sometimes, disappear for months or years, then return when stressed.

Dysautonomia symptoms can include a rapid heart rate when standing or sitting up, lightheadedness and dizziness, fainting or near-fainting, fatigue, trouble with breathing, sleep disturbances, bloating, weight loss, vomiting, muscle weakness, difficulty swallowing, frequent urination, sensitivity to changes in temperature and vision issues such as blurry or tunneling vision.

Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) is an example of a dysautonomic condition in which standing up causes the heart to beat faster than normal and can lead to some symptoms, including giddiness, chest pains, nausea, sweating, and shortness of breath. It is estimated that about 1 million to 3 million teens have POTS. It may cause a fainting episode in as many as a third of cases.


For those suffering from dysautonomia, symptoms can be unpredictable, recur frequently, and vary in severity. They may include fatigue, abnormal breathing patterns, dizziness, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, sleep problems, food and drug intolerance, GI issues, exercise intolerance, and temperature sensitivity.

The most common form of the condition is postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). When people stand up, their heart rate increases by an abnormally large amount. Symptoms can also include lightheadedness, weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal issues, and brain fog.

A doctor will typically perform blood or autonomic testing to diagnose the disorder. During these tests, patients are connected to machines that monitor their blood pressure, heart rate, and skin temperature to see how well the ANS functions.

dysautonomia specialist Colorado recommends specific medications to address symptoms like low blood pressure when standing and bladder dysfunction. Other medications can help reduce irritability, nausea, and anxiety. Adding calming mindfulness techniques to a patient’s daily routine can also be beneficial.


Dysautonomia is an umbrella term for various conditions that affect the autonomic nervous system. This system, which operates below the level of consciousness, regulates functions such as blood pressure, digestion, breathing, salivation, pupillary dilation, sweating, and heart rate.

Dysautonomia can be caused by different factors, including degenerative neurologic diseases, autoimmune disorders (like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis), gastrointestinal problems, and certain drug side effects.

The symptoms of dysautonomia are often varied and non-specific, making it difficult for doctors to diagnose. It is common for patients with dysautonomia to see multiple doctors before being diagnosed with their condition. Symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, headaches, bladder and bowel dysfunction, temperature intolerance, and exercise intolerance are commonly seen in individuals with dysautonomia.

Depending on the type of dysautonomia, there is often no cure for the underlying disease. However, treating the symptoms and making lifestyle changes can help improve the quality of life for many patients.

Lifestyle Changes

There’s no cure for dysautonomia, but treating the underlying condition can help. Dysautonomia can be managed with lifestyle changes, including increased fluid intake, adding salt to the diet (4-6 grams a day), sleep positioning, leg crossing and other resistance maneuvers, activity tolerance programs, pacing and compression garments, cooling vests, avoiding heat and sun or humid environments, graded exercise and more depending on your specific symptoms.

Neurocardiogenic syncope (NCS), also called situational syncope or vasovagal syncope, is the most common primary form of dysautonomia affecting tens of millions of people worldwide. NCS causes fainting when blood flow to the brain is reduced by standing up or a sudden decrease in heart rate.

Other forms of dysautonomia include:

  • POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome).
  • Familial autonomic neuropathy.
  • Pure autonomic failure.
  • Autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Symptoms of these conditions range from mild to debilitating and can come and go. That’s why finding a healthcare team that understands these disorders and can manage your symptoms is crucial.