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Heart Rate, Breathing And Swallowing Can Be Compromised By Autonomic Dysfunction

Functions once taken for granted become everyday struggle for some 

DAYTON, Ohio (November 9, 2018) – The body naturally orchestrates many important functions over the course of a day and a person never gives thought to making them happen.

Inhaling oxygen, circulating blood and swallowing saliva are all important things our body does to stay alive without requiring a person to remember to do them, thanks to the autonomic nerve system. But disease can negatively impact this nerve system causing certain things to stop working on their own.

“The basic structure of the automatic nerve system consists of central control units located in the brain and spinal cord, which make connections to organs such as the heart, lungs, stomach and bladder,” said Zhijun George Guo, MD, PhD, with the Clinical Neuroscience Institute. “Autonomic dysfunction is when this nerve system stops working properly.”

The causes for autonomic dysfunction are very complex, said Dr. Guo, who practices with Premier Physician Network. Medication can interfere with the nerve which connects the main unit to the functioning organ. The nerve connections may also become damaged by diseases such as diabetes or Parkinson’s. In some cases, autonomic dysfunction is a simple result of the aging process, he said.

“There are times when we see younger patients who experience this because the nerve wiring didn’t develop properly,” Dr. Guo said. “This can play itself out in minor health conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.”

Autonomic dysfunction can be difficult to diagnose given it can be linked to a variety of causes and exhibit symptoms that may be attributed to other health conditions. The most common form of diagnosis has been through a clinical exam of symptoms such as dizziness upon standing up, ongoing fatigue, abnormal hot or cold sensations throughout the body or the propensity to become overly emotional.

Physicians like Dr. Guo, however, are able to dissect the disease with more accuracy with the help of a new machine that detects dysfunction of the nerve system through sensors. The sensors that are placed on different parts of the patient’s body help detect blood pressure, heart rate and skin reaction. Patients connected to the machine are asked to exert themselves either through deep breathing or body movement and the sensors then detect if their body is not responding properly.

“Before we only could go off of a patient’s symptoms,” Dr. Guo said. “Now we have equipment that can objectively detect changes in their body and confirm the disease.”

Properly diagnosing autonomic dysfunction is an important step in helping a person to learn to live with it. The condition can have a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and, at times, be very disabling. A person, for example, can become light-headed or faint each time they stand, or feel tired all of the time, he said.

There is no cure for autonomic dysfunction, but there are steps a person can take to help improve the symptoms. Lifestyle changes include maintaining good hydration or wearing compression stockings to increase blood flow. Patients are often taught the correct head and body positions while lying in bed to minimize blood pressure drops when they change position or stand up. Current medications are also evaluated to make sure they are not aggravating or causing autonomic dysfunction symptoms to worsen.

“Other steps include making sure diseases – such as diabetes – that may be the cause for autonomic dysfunction are being properly treated,” Dr. Guo said.

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