Is Autonomic Neuropathy (AN)?
Damage to the nerves that help your organs and organ systems to
function can cause a condition called autonomic neuropathy (AN). This nerve
damage disturbs signal processing between the autonomic nervous system and the
brain. Injured autonomic nerves can affect your:
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- perspiration patterns
- bowel movements
- bladder emptying
AN is often associated with other medical conditions and diseases
and certain medications. Your symptoms may vary based on the cause of your
neuropathy and the location of your nerve damage.
Causes Autonomic Neuropathy?
Factors that might cause injury to the autonomic nerves include:
- chronic illnesses, such as HIV or Parkinson’s
- medication, such as chemotherapy drugs
- nerve trauma, such as a bruise, burn, or cut
- an unusual buildup of protein in your organs
- autoimmune disorders, such as lupus
- degenerative disorders, such as multiple system
Are the Risk Factors for Autonomic Neuropathy?
The following people have an increased risk of AN:
- older people
- people with high blood pressure
- people with high cholesterol
- people who are overweight
Other factors that may increase your risk of AN include:
- Parkinson’s disease
Are the Symptoms of Autonomic Neuropathy?
AN can affect many organs and cause an array of symptoms. Early
symptoms of AN include dizziness or faintness when rising or standing, and vomiting
or feeling nauseated when eating. You may also have disturbances with bowel
movements, bladder control, or sexual functioning
Other symptoms may affect the functioning of specific organs and
The symptoms affecting you bladder may include frequent urinary
tract infections and urinary incontinence or an inability to empty your bladder.
The symptoms of AN that affect your digestive system can include:
- frequent indigestion or heartburn
- vomiting undigested food
- swollen abdomen
- full feeling after eating a small quantity of
- poor appetite
The symptoms of AN that affect your reproductive organs can
- erectile dysfunction
- premature ejaculation
- in women, difficulty achieving an orgasm
- vaginal dryness
Heart and Blood Vessels
The symptoms of AN that affect your heart and blood vessels
- dizziness when rising
- difficulty breathing with exercise
- rapid heart rate at rest
- heart attack without any warning signs
The symptoms of AN that affect your eyes can include slow pupil
adjustment from dark to light and difficulty driving at night.
The symptoms of AN that affect your sweat glands can include dry
skin on your feet and excessive sweating or lack of sweating.
Other symptoms of AN can include unexplained weight loss and low
blood glucose without warning signals, such as shakiness.
Is Autonomic Neuropathy Diagnosed?
See your doctor if you have symptoms of AN. Early diagnosis may
improve your outlook.
Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your risk factors,
observations during a physical examination, and test results. Your doctor may
conduct the following tests:
- breathing tests to evaluate blood pressure and
- gastric emptying tests to assess your gastric
motility and muscle activity
- a quantitative sudomotor axon reflex test (QSART)
to assess nerve reactions associated with the sweat glands
- a blood pressure test when standing and sitting
- a tilt-table test to monitor blood pressure
during posture changes
- a thermoregulatory test to look at your sweat
patterns during temperature changes
- urine tests to assess your bladder functioning
- a bladder ultrasound to examine your bladder
- abdominal X-rays to examine your digestive tract
Are the Treatments for Autonomic Neuropathy?
Treatments for AN target the damaged nerves and any underlying
condition causing injury to the nerves. Different treatments are available
depending on your symptoms.
Digestive and gastrointestinal treatments include:
- taking prescription medications to help with
- taking laxatives for constipation
- consuming frequent, small meals
- increasing your fiber and fluid intake
- taking tricyclic antidepressants for stomach
pain or loose stools
Bladder and urinary treatments include:
- taking prescription medication to empty your
- taking prescription medication to reduce
symptoms of overactive bladder
- scheduling your drinking and urinating to
retrain your bladder
- threading a catheter through your urethra to
drain the bladder
Sexual dysfunction treatments include:
- taking medication to help bring about an
- using a vacuum pump to force blood into the
penis to cause an erection
- using vaginal lubricants to combat dryness
Heart and blood pressure treatments include:
- a high-sodium and high-fluid diet to sustain
- prescription medication to reduce dizziness when
- prescription medication to increase your blood
pressure for faintness
- beta blockers to regulate your heart rate with
differing activity levels
- changes in posture, flexing your feet, and
slowing your speed when rising to decrease dizziness
- sleeping with your head elevated to reduce
Abnormal sweating treatment includes:
- taking prescription medication to reduce
Can I Prevent Autonomic Neuropathy?
Addressing conditions that may cause neuropathy can help prevent
your blood sugar stable if you have diabetes. Eating a low-sugar
and high-fiber diet might help regulate diabetes.
smoking cigarettes. Talk to your doctor about treatments that can help
drinking alcohol. Seeking the services of a counselor may be helpful.
- Exercise daily to help you manage certain health
conditions and lose weight if necessary.
high blood pressure by drinking plenty of fluids, exercising
regularly, and eliminating stressors.
Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Your outlook varies based on the cause of your nerve damage and
how well it can be treated. In some cases, the nerves can repair themselves. In
others, symptoms remain the same or even worsen despite treatment.