Autonomic neuropathy is a group of symptoms that arise due to damage to the nerves supplying various organs of the body. In this condition, the involuntary functions of the body are hampered. The nerve damage disturbs the flow of messages between the brain and the affected organs. It may affect basic functions such as digestion, blood pressure, temperature control, bladder function, and sexual functions. It occurs due to other diseases like diabetes, hypothyroidism, infection, some medicines, etc. The nerve damage cannot be reversed with medications but further symptoms and complications can be prevented.
How Does Autonomic Neuropathy Affect The Body?
Autonomic neuropathy is a bunch of symptoms that appear when nerves controlling the involuntary functions of our body are damaged. It may happen due to other disease conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc. In this condition, the autonomic nervous system is affected. It may affect one organ or more. (1)
The organs affected by autonomic neuropathy are-
- Stomach and intestines
- Sex organs
- Sweat glands (1)
Heart: When the nerves that control the heart rate and blood pressure are affected, then the functions of these nerves become slow in response to any change in the position of the body, stress, sleep, physical activities and breathing patterns. These damaged nerves may lead to an increased heart rate. The heart rate may remain high even during rest. It then lowers down blood pressure while standing up resulting in postural hypotension. This condition of the heart is also called cardiac autonomic neuropathy (CAN). It may also lead to a heart attack without pain or symptoms called silent myocardial infarction. (2)
Stomach: Autonomic neuropathy can also affect vagus nerves that send impulses from the brain to control the function of the stomach. This condition is called gastroparesis. It leads to the impaired emptying of the stomach resulting in too long staying of the food there. It leads to symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, abdominal bloating, and inappropriate changes in glucose levels. (2)
Bladder: If nerves supplying the bladder are damaged, then it leads to insufficient emptying of the bladder, infection by bacteria, leakage of urine, and urine incontinence. (2)
Sweat Glands: When neuropathy affects nerves supplying sweat glands, it impairs one’s ability to sweat. If sweating is impaired, then body temperature gets disturbed and skin becomes dehydrated. It may result in drying and cracking of the skin on the feet. (2)
Sex Organs: In men, nerve damage in the sexual organs may cause erectile dysfunction. In this condition, the penis is unable to erect completely during sexual intercourse. It may also lead to ejaculation problems. In women, damaged nerves of sex organs may cause drying of the vagina during sexual intercourse. It may also lead to less feeling of orgasm. (2)
What Triggers Autonomic Neuropathy?
Autonomic neuropathy is caused due to many underlying diseases and conditions. It can be understood by primary and secondary causes. Its primary causes involve-
- multiple system atrophy
- Parkinson’s syndrome
- Idiopathic orthostatic hypotension
Its secondary causes involve-
- Diabetes and pre-diabetes
- Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus
- After prolonged illness or inactivity
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Lyme disease
- Deficiencies of vitamin B1, B3, B6 and B12
- Physical trauma, surgery, pregnancy or viral illness
- Certain Medications
- Small cell lung cancer
- Disorders that have resulted from an immune response to cancer
Autonomic neuropathy is a condition caused due to damage to the nerves that control the autonomic nervous system. It affects nerves supplying to the organs such as the heart, stomach, bladder, sweat glands, and sex organs. It develops due to nerve damages resulted from some underlying diseases such as diabetes, HIV, toxicity, physical trauma, and others mentioned above.
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