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What is dysautonomia?

Dysautonomia is a disorder of autonomic nervous system (ANS) function. The ANS is charge of involuntary functions—things that happen without thinking—like breathing. Dysautonomia usually involves failure of the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the ANS. The disorder can include many different health conditions caused by problems with the ANS. Dysautonomia can involve failure of parts of the ANS as well as too much activity. It can show up in the body in different ways.

Dysautonomia can be:

  • Local, as in reflex sympathetic dystrophy, which causes lasting pain typically in an arm or leg
  • Generalized (spread throughout the body), as in pure autonomic failure.
    • Sympathetic failure can cause impotence in men and a fall in blood pressure during standing (orthostatic hypotension). Too much sympathetic activity can show up as hypertension or high blood pressure, or a rapid pulse rate
  • Severe and sudden and also reversible, as in Guillain-Barré syndrome
  • Chronic or ongoing, worsening over time

Several common conditions such as diabetes and alcoholism can include dysautonomia. Dysautonomia also can occur as a primary or main condition, or it can happen along with:

  • Degenerative neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple system atrophy
  • Familial dysautonomia

The outlook for people with dysautonomia depends on the case. The disorder may improve with treatment of any underlying disease. In many cases treatment of primary dysautonomia works to address symptoms. Ways to combat orthostatic hypotension include raising the head of the bed, water bolus (rapid infusion of water given by IV needle), a high-salt diet, and drugs such as fludrocortisone and midodrine.

People with chronic dysautonomia that is generalized with central nervous system degeneration have a generally poor long-term prognosis.

Learn About Clinical Trials
Clinical trials are studies that allow us to learn more about disorders and improve care. They can help connect patients with new and upcoming treatment options.

How can I or my loved one help improve care for people with dysautonomia?

Consider participating in a clinical trial so clinicians and scientists can learn more about dysautonomia and related disorders. Clinical research uses human volunteers to help researchers learn more about a disorder and perhaps find better ways to safely detect, treat, or prevent disease.

All types of volunteers are needed—those who are healthy or may have an illness or disease—of all different ages, sexes, races, and ethnicities to ensure that study results apply to as many people as possible, and that treatments will be safe and effective for everyone who will use them.

For information about participating in clinical research visit NIH Clinical Research Trials and You. Learn about clinical trials currently looking for people with dysautonomia at Clinicaltrials.gov.

Where can I find more information about dysautonomia?

Information may be available from the following resources:

Order publications from the NINDS Catalog
The NINDS Publication Catalog offers printed materials on neurological disorders for patients, health professionals, and the general public. All materials are free of charge, and a downloadable PDF version is also available for most publications.