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Condition

Autonomic Neuropathy

Condition 101

What is the definition of Autonomic Neuropathy?

Autonomic neuropathy is a group of symptoms that occur when there is damage to the nerves that manage every day body functions. These functions include blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, bowel and bladder emptying, and digestion.

What are the alternative names for Autonomic Neuropathy?

Neuropathy - autonomic; Autonomic nerve disease

What are the causes for Autonomic Neuropathy?

Autonomic neuropathy is a group of symptoms. It is not a specific disease. There are many causes.

Autonomic neuropathy involves damage to the nerves that carry information from the brain and spinal cord. The information is then carried to the heart, blood vessels, bladder, intestines, sweat glands, and pupils.

Autonomic neuropathy may be seen with:

  • Alcohol abuse
  • Diabetes (diabetic neuropathy)
  • Disorders involving scarring of tissues around the nerves
  • Guillain Barré syndrome or other diseases that inflame nerves
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Inherited nerve disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson disease
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Surgery or injury involving the nerves

What are the symptoms for Autonomic Neuropathy?

Symptoms vary, depending on the nerves affected. They usually develop slowly over years.

Stomach and intestine symptoms may include:

  • Constipation (hard stools)
  • Diarrhea (loose stools)
  • Feeling full after only a few bites (early satiety)
  • Nausea after eating
  • Problems controlling bowel movements
  • Swallowing problems
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Vomiting of undigested food

Heart and lungs symptoms may include:

  • Abnormal heart rate or rhythm
  • Blood pressure changes with position that causes dizziness when standing
  • High blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath with activity or exercise

Bladder symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty beginning to urinate
  • Feeling of incomplete bladder emptying
  • Leaking urine

Other symptoms may include:

  • Sweating too much or not enough
  • Heat intolerance brought on with activity and exercise
  • Sexual problems, including erection problems in men and vaginal dryness and orgasm difficulties in women
  • Small pupil in one eye
  • Weight loss without trying

What are the current treatments for Autonomic Neuropathy?

Treatment to reverse nerve damage is most often not possible. As a result, treatment and self-care are focused on managing your symptoms and preventing further problems.

Your health care provider may recommend:

  • Extra salt in the diet or taking salt tablets to increase fluid volume in blood vessels
  • Fludrocortisone or similar medicines to help your body retain salt and fluid
  • Medicines to treat irregular heart rhythms
  • Pacemaker
  • Sleeping with the head raised
  • Wearing compression stockings

The following may help your intestines and stomach work better:

  • Daily bowel care program
  • Medicines that help the stomach move food through faster
  • Sleeping with the head raised
  • Small, frequent meals

Medicines and self-care programs can help you if you have:

  • Urinary incontinence
  • Neurogenic bladder
  • Erection problems

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Autonomic Neuropathy?

How well you do will depend on the cause of the problem and if it can be treated.

When should I contact a medical professional for Autonomic Neuropathy?

Call your provider if you have symptoms of autonomic neuropathy. Early symptoms might include:

  • Becoming faint or lightheaded when standing
  • Changes in bowel, bladder, or sexual function
  • Unexplained nausea and vomiting when eating

Early diagnosis and treatment may control symptoms.

Autonomic neuropathy may hide the warning signs of a heart attack. Instead of feeling chest pain, if you have autonomic neuropathy, during a heart attack you may only have:

  • Sudden fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting

How do I prevent Autonomic Neuropathy?

Prevent or control associated disorders to reduce the risk for neuropathy. For example, people with diabetes should closely control blood sugar levels.

REFERENCES

Katirji B. Disorders of peripheral nerves. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 107.

Shy ME. Peripheral neuropathies. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 420.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Early-stage Diabetic Charcot Foot
  • Journal: Zhongguo xiu fu chong jian wai ke za zhi = Zhongguo xiufu chongjian waike zazhi = Chinese journal of reparative and reconstructive surgery
  • Treatment Used: Lower Extremity Dellon Triple Nerve Decompression
  • Number of Patients: 24
  • Published —
The study researched the outcomes of lower extremity Dellon triple nerve decompression in treatment of early-stage diabetic Charcot foot.
Latest Advance
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  • Condition: Patients with Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (T1DM) and Related End-Stage Renal Disease
  • Journal: Journal of diabetes research
  • Treatment Used: Simultaneous Pancreas Kidney (SPK) Transplantation
  • Number of Patients: 81
  • Published —
This study evaluated the prevalence of cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN) in patients undergoing simultaneous pancreas-kidney (SPK) transplantation and its evolution 10 years after transplantation.
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Neuropathies Associated with Painful Small Fiber Neuropathy
  • Journal: Nutrients
  • Treatment Used: Dietary Agmatine Sulfate
  • Number of Patients: 23
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The study researched the effects of dietary agmatine sulfate for neuropathies associated with painful small Fiber neuropathy.
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Chronic Bilateral Painful Glossopharyngeal Neuropathy
  • Journal: The American journal of case reports
  • Treatment Used: Percutaneous Pulsed Radiofrequency
  • Number of Patients: 1
  • Published —
This case report describes a patient with chronic bilateral painful glossopharyngeal neuropathy that was treated with percutaneous pulsed radiofrequency.