What Is Dysautonomia?
Though probably a word you might not have heard of, you may have experienced some of its symptoms. Dysautonomia is a malfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The mainstream neurological definition of dysautonomia, as with many things connected to the vagus nerve in general, is narrow. But its symptoms are broad. Here are a few of them:
- Difficulty staying upright
- Dizziness, vertigo, and fainting
- Fast, slow, or irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain or tight sensation
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Gastrointestinal (digestive) problems
- Visual disturbances
- Excessive fatigue
- Excessive thirst (polydipsia)
- Light headedness, dizziness or vertigo
- Feelings of anxiety or panic (not mentally induced)
- Orthostatic hypotension, sometimes resulting in syncope (fainting)
Some of these are grouped in syndromes including POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) and vasovagal syncope. And dysautonomia is associated with Lyme disease, EDS (Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) and Marfan Syndrome. Clinicians who specialize in this area recognize the spectrum of ‘disorders’ and ‘syndromes’ that make up a substantial proportion of non-emergency medicine.
What Causes Dysautonomia?
In short, life is much more complex than it used to be. For most people, life used to be simple. You’d work in the field or at the factory until you retired or died suddenly from cholera or some epidemic. You married Elsie or Joseph from number 32 down the road or from the farm. The vast majority of people never moved outside a 20-mile radius from where they were born.
But of course life has changed. There are much higher population densities. People move regularly between countries, exposing themselves to different foods and all the fungi, bacteria and viruses in those foods.
Stress levels are higher than they’ve ever been. Modern stress is insidious and constant. It feels like a ‘dirty’ stress from constant deadlines and overload. Years ago stress was much 'cleaner'. You had a threat, when the threat went, the stress went.
The environment changed more in the last 50 years than it has in the past 50,000. There's much more environmental pollution, for example. With that comes increased exposure to heavy metals and industrial chemicals. This and Electromagnetic Field Exposure, are almost impossible to avoid.
Our diet has changed with many of the foods in the food chain mainly junk or fast food made with Genetically Modified Organisms. And to top it all, we're the most sedentary we've ever been in the history of humankind.
With such a perfect storm, the remarkable thing is that anyone is without symptoms. It's likely that the present generation of people in the over-developed world will be the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents. This trend is lead by America, but with the UK and Europe not far behind.
What Triggers Dysautonomia?
Viral illnesses can trigger dysautonomia syndrome. So can exposure to chemicals. Gulf War Syndrome is, in effect, dysautonomia. A history of trauma and prolonged stress also appears to be a significant trigger. And a majority of people with dysautonomia have symptoms associated with hyperventilation (over breathing) leading to low respiratory CO2 (hypocapnia).
What Can You Do About Dysautonomia?
Don’t panic, there's much that can be done:
- Clean up your stress by increasing your stress resilience and stress coping capacity through meditation, assisted technology and good work-life balance.
- Improve your sleep by introducing good sleep hygiene. Ensure you get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, or you’ll see your performance and health plummet. If you have a sleep problem, get it fixed without resorting to drugs.
- Clean up your act in your home. Remove obvious toxins from your food chain and your home. Remove plastic (plastic bottles, Tupperware, cling film) wherever you can.
- Eat organic wherever possible, particularly when it comes to animal products.
- Don’t drink tap water unless it's been filtered.
- Take Electromagnetic Field (EMF) protection measures and keep electronic devices out of proximity wherever possible. Don’t keep electronic devices like TVs or phones in your bedroom at night, and turn off your WiFi.
The Body's Who's Who
It's hard to understand this condition without knowing what it affects in the body. The star player is your body's Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). This is made up of the parasympathetic and autonomic nervous system. It focuses mainly on controlling the automatic functions of the body such as breathing, heartbeat and digestion.
Dysautonomia is a dysfunction or breakdown of the normal regulatory/balancing process that the ANS has on the body. All biology is about constant regulation of systems. As an example, remember you breathe in O2, and CO2 rises as you breathe out. The body is constantly adjusting your PH levels, contracting some things, and relaxing others.
There’s also a sort of mechanical and biochemical regulation system going on at the same time. That’s what we call homeostasis. We could say that disease and symptoms of disease are a result of a breakdown in the normal process of homeostasis. Dysautonomia is a big part of that. Our view is much larger than the dictionary definition, which currently applies to specific symptoms. We are in the process of widening the definition of dysautonomia to cover the common patterns we see in clinic every day.
Problems With Diagnosis
During 30 years as one of the UK’s leading integrated physicians, I've seen many people suffering from an apparently disconnected series of multi-system symptoms. This might better be described as a syndrome than disease of a specific organ system. Many modern problems involve more than one biological system or area of the body.
This presents unique challenges to mainstream medicine. Medical science has spent much of the last hundred years dividing the human body up into specific sections and systems, creating specialists for each.
A gastroenterologist will tend to look at your digestion, a gynaecologist at your reproductive system. Doctors have become more and more expert at increasingly smaller areas of the body. The more someone specializes, the smaller the microscope, making it harder to see the big picture.
Dysautonomia is the big picture. An expert needs to come in and take an overarching view and put the jigsaw pieces together. When new problems come in across several systems, the diagnosis, treatment and management of syndrome diseases is difficult for mainstream medical protocols. From a holistic point of view it’s in fact the standard method of assessment.
What Kind Of Conditions And Problems Are Caused By Dysautonomia
The kinds of things that fall into this category are diseases including IBS, migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic prostatitis (CPP), and chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS). This includes some autoimmune and epidemic diseases like Lyme disease, alongside emotional or mental issues such as severe insomnia, trauma, anxiety and depression.
My team at New Medicine Group pieced together, over many years, patterns of symptoms that frequently appear together. These patterns can be useful for helping understand this epidemic of ‘syndromes’ and ‘disorders’. We coined the term DSR: Dysregulation Spectrum Disorders to describe this overwhelming range of symptoms. The list is a long one and takes in many, many common and not so common symptoms.
The term epidemic is exactly the right one to use when it comes to dysautonomia. But it is treatable and many of its symptoms can be turned around. Come and talk to my team to find out how.