Autonomic neuropathy is the condition characterized by the damage of various autonomic nerves. The severity of the condition depends upon the nerves that get damaged. Cardiac autonomic neuropathy leads to life-threatening complications while disorders in the digestive system lead to indigestion, heartburn, and constipation. If left untreated, the condition may lead to serious complications.
What Happens To Untreated Autonomic Neuropathy?
Autonomic neuropathy controls the functioning of vital organs in the body including heart, blood vessels, digestive process, urinary system, and bowel movement. Thus, the untreated condition may cause serious and sometimes irreversible complications. Some of the complications associated with autonomic neuropathy include:
Cardiovascular Disorders: Patients with cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy are at increased risk of serious and life-threatening complications. These complications include blood pressure fluctuations, cerebral ischemia, cardiac arrest, cardiac dysrhythmia, and cardiac ischemia2.
Gastrointestinal Disorders: Autonomic neuropathy also leads to complications in the gastrointestinal system. These include esophageal enteropathy, fecal incontinence, and gastroparesis3. These complications are more commonly associated with autonomic neuropathy associated with poor glucose control.
Urinary Disorders: Autonomic neuropathy seriously affects the functioning of the urinary tract. Complications related to the urinary tract includes problem in bladder emptying and urinary incontinence.
When To Go To Doctor?
Immediate medical intervention is required in case you see any of the symptoms related to autonomic neuropathy. Diabetes is the most common cause of this condition thus people who have uncontrolled diabetes for a long period and with abnormal HBA1C test results should visit the doctor for screening.
According to the American Diabetes Association, patient with type 2 diabetes should screen regularly for autonomic neuropathy every year after diagnosis while patients suffering from type 1 diabetes should undergo annual screening five years after diagnosis1.
Early symptoms for autonomic neuropathy include:
- Fainting and lightheadedness while standing,
- Nausea and vomiting, the reason for which is not known,
- Change in bowel function, bladder control, and digestion.
How To Know If I Have Autonomic Neuropathy?
Autonomic neuropathy affects the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is responsible for performing involuntary activities such as maintaining blood pressure, digestion, bowel movement, bladder control, and temperature regulation. Thus, autonomic neuropathy affects these functions by damaging the nerves controlling these functions. The severity and extent of symptoms experienced depend upon the damage to a particular type of autonomic nerve. Following are the symptoms experienced by the patients suffering from autonomic neuropathy:
Eyes: Eyes are affected by autonomic neuropathy. The patient has difficulty in adjusting the size of the pupil when coming from dark to light. Further, the patient with autonomic neuropathy has difficulty driving at night1.
Cardiovascular System: Patient with autonomic neuropathy have poor cardiovascular health. The blood pressure and heart rate remain unstable and the patient experiences dizziness and fainting.
Sweat Glands: The patient with autonomic neuropathy may have difficulty with the sweating mechanism. The patient may either sweat too much or too little and thus have a problem in temperature regulation.
Reproductive Organs: The patient with autonomic neuropathy also have an effect on the reproductive system. The patient may experience erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. Women may suffer from vaginal dryness, and difficulty achieving orgasm.
Bladder: Patient with autonomic neuropathy also have poor bladder control. The patient may experience frequent urinary tract infection and urinary incontinence. The patient also has the problem in completely emptying the bladder.
Digestive System: Patient with autonomic neuropathy also suffered from digestive disorders. Digestive symptoms experienced by the patient include constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, heartburn, vomiting undigested food, and poor appetite.
Exercise Intolerance: Patient with autonomic neuropathy have exercise intolerance as the heart rate are not adjusting themselves according to the level of activity due to the damaged autonomic nerve.
Autonomic neuropathy is a serious condition affecting the vital organs of the body. If left untreated, some form of autonomic neuropathy progresses to cause serious complication. Cardiac arrest and sudden death may occur due to cardiac autonomic neuropathy. Early symptoms include fainting, dizziness, constipation, and change in bowel function.
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