Autonomic dysfunction, or dysautonomia, is a nerve disorder that can affect involuntary functions throughout the body. This disorder can cause a sudden drop in blood pressure, fainting, sweating abnormalities, and affect bladder and sexual function. Autonomic dysfunction can result from an inherited condition or other diseases harming the autonomic nerve system (ANS), such as diabetes or Parkinson's disease. It can also be a side effect of treatments for other diseases, such as cancer.
Autonomic dysfunction can be temporary and reversible or more severe. In some cases, it is not reversible and requires long-term care. Treatment depends on the parts of the autonomic nerve system or other organs affected by the disorder.
Autonomic Dysfunction: Why Choose Vanderbilt
- Recognized expertise: As one of only a few autonomic dysfunction centers in the U.S., Vanderbilt is a national leader in specialized care for autonomic dysfunction.
- Depth of experience: The Vanderbilt Autonomic Dysfunction Center was the first international center for patient care, research and training focused exclusively on autonomic nervous system disorders. Today, Vanderbilt is the coordinating center for the Autonomic Disorder Consortium, a team dedicated to finding new therapies to treat and cure autonomic disorders.
- Advanced care: We apply the latest advances in diagnosis, testing and treatment, including new research and clinical trials.
- Collaborative team: Our specialists collaborate on your evaluation to determine the cause of your condition and develop a personalized care plan.
- Access to specialists: You will have access to the full resources of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, one of the country’s top hospital systems.
Autonomic Dysfunction: Conditions We Treat
- Autoimmune Autonomic Neuropathy
- Baroreflex Failure
- Diabetes Autonomic Neuropathy
- Dopamine-Beta-Hydroxylase Deficiency
- Multiple System Atrophy (MSA)/Shy-Drager Syndrome
- Neurally Mediated Syncope
- Non-Diabetes Autonomic Neuropathy
- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS)
- Pure Autonomic Failure (PAF)
- Small Fiber Autonomic Neuropathy
Autonomic Dysfunction: Tests and Diagnosis
We will review your medical history, discuss your symptoms and may perform a physical exam. Depending on your symptoms and risk factors, we may need to perform one or more of the following tests to evaluate autonomic functions:
- Blood volume analysis: During this test, a dye will be injected into your bloodstream through one of your veins. Following the dye injection, we will take a blood sample to determine your plasma volume.
- Cold pressor test: This test is only needed under special circumstances. To perform this test, you will hold a hand in ice water for one minute while our team records your blood pressure and heart rate.
- Deep breathing test: For this test, you will need to breathe slowly and as deeply as you can for one minute. We will measure your blood pressure and heart rate.
- Neurohormonal assessment: For this test, you will lie down for a blood draw. Afterwards, we will ask you to stand for 15 minutes and take another blood sample. Our team will evaluate the number of hormones produced by your autonomic nerves.
- Postural blood pressure and heart rate test: Our team will measure changes in your blood pressure and heart rate as you change positions. We will ask you to lie down, sit and stand.
- Quantitative sudomotor axonal reflex test (QSART): This test, also called QSWEAT, measures the autonomic nerves that control sweating. With a mild electrical stimulation on the skin, a computer will analyze the response of your nerves and sweat glands.
- Tilt table test: To begin this test, you will lie flat on a table. The table will be tilted upward to simulate a change in position from lying down to standing up. We will measure how your blood pressure and heart rate respond to the change in posture and position.
- Valsalva maneuver: For this test, you will take a deep breath, exhale for 15 seconds against resistance, then relax. Our team will record changes in your blood pressure and heart rate.
Treatments for Autonomic Dysfunction
Our specialists will work with you to develop a treatment plan that’s tailored to the disease or condition damaging your nerves. Depending on your test results, your treatment plan may include medication and lifestyle modifications related to diet and exercise.
We will communicate your test results and long-term care plan with your primary care doctor. We will continue to be a resource and offer direction for your care, as needed by your primary care doctor.
Our experienced team of doctors may see patients at additional locations. To find the location closest to you, call (615) 322-2318.
Medical Center East
1215 21st Ave. S., Suite 5209
Nashville, TN 37232
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