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Autonomic Neuropathy Symptoms and Causes

Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju
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Sandeep Dhanyamraju MD
Medically reviewed by Sandeep Dhanyamraju

Autonomic neuropathy can have a significant impact on an individual’s quality of life. As it can affect their ability to carry out daily activities and lead to discomfort and pain. It can also lead to serious complications, such as:

  • heart failure;
  • kidney damage;
  • gastrointestinal bleeding.

Thus, early recognition and treatment of the condition are crucial to prevent it further. It may help improve outcomes.

 

The symptoms of autonomic neuropathy can vary depending on:

  • the nerves affected;
  • the underlying cause. 

 

Common symptoms include:

  • dizziness;
  • fainting;
  • irregular heartbeat;
  • difficulty swallowing;
  • constipation or diarrhea;
  • bladder problems. 

The causes of autonomic neuropathy are diverse. They can range from underlying medical conditions to lifestyle factors. Diabetes is one of the most common causes, as high blood sugar levels can damage the nerves over time. 

In this article, we will look at this autonomic disorder in more detail. We will also explain the symptoms, causes, and possible treatment.

 

What is Autonomic Neuropathy?

Autonomic neuropathy is a form of polyneuropathy. It affects the involuntary, insensitive nervous system. It relates mainly to internal organs, such as:

  • bladder muscles;
  • the cardiovascular system;
  • the digestive tract;
  • sex organs. 

 

These nerves are not under the individual’s conscious control and function automatically. Autonomic nerve fibers form large clusters outside the spinal cord in the:

  • thorax;
  • abdomen;
  • pelvis. 

Autonomic nervous dysfunction  occurs in people with long-standing type 1 and 2 diabetes mellitus.

In most cases, the disease occurs along with other forms of neuropathy.

Some conditions affecting the brain or spinal cord can also cause autonomic dysfunction. Thus they can cause something similar to autonomic neuropathy.

 

Autonomic Neuropathy Symptoms

The most important symptom is low blood pressure. Men may also have difficulty achieving and maintaining an erection (erectile dysfunction). Some patients’ bladders become overactive. It may cause them to urinate involuntarily (urinary incontinence). Others have difficulty urinating (urinary retention) because their bladder is inactive. Your organism may delay gastric emptying (gastroparesis). This person may feel full too soon when eating and may vomit. Severe constipation may occur.

autonomic neuropathy symptoms

In general, the main symptoms of autonomic dysfunction are as the following:

  • digestive and urinary symptoms;
  • cardiovascular symptoms;
  • sexual dysfunction;
  • sweating and temperature regulation;
  • eye and vision problems;
  • nerve pain.

If somatic nerves are also damaged, the patient may lose sensation. They also can feel tingling in the hands and feet and develop muscle weakness.

 

Sometimes there is pathological hypersensitivity during autonomic disorder when:

  • a slight touch to a certain body area causes severe pain;
  • the impact of the disease is significant, and there is no pain. 

Pain sensitivity can completely disappear. So, for example, you will not notice a small injury or a cut will. But due to impaired innervation, such a wound takes a long time to heal and often develops into a trophic ulcer.

 

In severe cases, patients may notice:

  • the appearance of vegetative disorders;
  • deterioration of the blood supply to the skin. It looks pale, dry, and atrophic.

Often a person gets used to these sensations and, because of this, postpones the visit to the doctor. Read more about the symptoms of autonomic dysfunction below.

 

Digestive Symptoms

Autonomic neuropathy can cause various digestive symptoms, such as:

  • bloating;
  • constipation;
  • diarrhea;
  • nausea;
  • vomiting;
  • loss of appetite.

After all, it controls the digestive process. If the nerves that control the muscles of the digestive tract have damage, the muscles may not work. This leads to constipation or diarrhea.

 

Urinary Symptoms

Autonomic neuropathy can affect the bladder, causing:

  • urinary incontinence;
  • retention;
  • urgency. 

These symptoms occur due to damage to the nerves that control the bladder. It results in an inability to control urine flow. People with the autonomic disorder may experience frequent urinary tract infections. This is due to incomplete emptying of the bladder.

 

Cardiovascular Symptoms

Autonomic neuropathy can affect the heart, causing:

These symptoms occur due to damage to the nerves that regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Individuals with this disorder may experience fainting spells or dizziness when standing up.

 

Sexual Dysfunction

The disease can affect sexual function. The following symptoms can be:

  • erectile dysfunction in men;
  • vaginal dryness or difficulty reaching orgasm in women. 

It occurs due to nerve damage which controls sexual arousal and response. Individuals with autonomic nervous dysfunction may also experience decreased libido or sexual desire.

 

Sweating and Temperature Regulation

Neuropathy can affect the body’s ability to sweat and regulate temperature. So the person can experience symptoms such as:

  • excessive sweating;
  • a lack of sweat;
  • intolerance to hot or cold temperatures. 

Nerve damage that controls sweating and blood vessel dilation lead to it.

 

Eye and Vision Problems

This disorder can cause eye problems such as:

  • blurry vision;
  • double vision;
  • difficulty adjusting to changes in light. 

These symptoms occur due to damage to the nerves that control the muscles of the eyes and the pupils. Individuals with autonomic neuropathy may experience dry eyes or difficulty focusing.

 

Nerve Pain

Autonomic neuropathy symptoms  can cause nerve pain in the feet and hands. Patients may describe it as:

Damage to the nerves that send sensory information to the brain may be the cause. People with autonomic neuropathy may experience using their hands for everyday tasks.

 

What Causes Autonomic Neuropathy?

Autonomic neuropathy occurs due to nerve damage that controls the autonomic nervous system. As they regulate many of the body’s automatic functions, such as:

  • heart rate;
  • blood pressure;
  • digestion;
  • temperature regulation.

causes of autonomic neuropathy

The damage can occur in several ways, including:

  • Diabetes. The most common cause of the autonomic disorder is diabetes. Particularly if it is poorly controlled. High blood sugar levels over time can damage the nerves that control the organs and systems in the body.
  • Autoimmune disorders. Certain autoimmune disorders, such as lupus or Sjogren’s syndrome, can cause it.
  • Infections. Some viral or bacterial infections, such as Lyme disease and shingles, damage nerves.
  • Toxins. Exposure to certain toxins, such as heavy metals or chemotherapy drugs, leads to it.
  • Hereditary conditions. Some hereditary conditions, such as familial amyloid polyneuropathy, can cause autonomic neuropathy.
  • Trauma. Trauma to the nerves, such as surgery or injury, can cause autonomic neuropathy.
  • Idiopathic. In some cases, the cause of autonomic nervous dysfunction is unknown. So doctors call it idiopathic autonomic neuropathy.

 

How is Autonomic Dysfunction Diagnosed? 

Some common methods used to diagnose autonomic dysfunction are:

  • Tilt table test. This test involves lying on a table and slowly reclining to an upright position. This is to measure changes in blood pressure and heart rate. This test can help diagnose orthostatic hypotension, a common symptom of autonomic dysfunction.
  • Autonomic function tests. These tests involve measuring the activity of the autonomic nervous system. Doctors perform it through a series of:
  • breathing;
  • blood pressure;
  • heart rate tests. 

 

These tests can provide information about how the autonomic nervous system is functioning.

  • Nerve conduction studies. These tests measure the speed and strength of electrical signals traveling through the nerves and can help diagnose the autonomic disorder.
  • Skin biopsy. A small skin sample may be taken and examined to assess the number and condition of small nerve fibers in the skin. This test can help diagnose small fiber neuropathy.
  • Blood tests. You may order blood tests to rule out underlying conditions, such as:
  • diabetes;
  • autoimmune disorders;
  • vitamin deficiencies.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests, such as MRI, may be good for looking for structural abnormalities in the brain.

Bottom Line

In summary, autonomic nervous dysfunction can cause various symptoms that affect multiple systems in the body. It is important to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis and treatment. That’s why we remind you about many neurological practices doctors use in Lone Star Neurology.

 

FAQ 

  • What is the difference between peripheral neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy?

Peripheral and autonomic neuropathy are both types of nerve damage, but they affect different parts of the nervous system. Peripheral neuropathy affects the nerves that control sensation and movement in the limbs. In contrast, autonomic neuropathy affects the nerves that control the body’s automatic functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and temperature regulation.

  • What are examples of autonomic neuropathy?

Examples include Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease. These conditions are caused by damage to the nerves that control the autonomic nervous system, which regulates many of the body’s automatic functions.

  • How serious is autonomic neuropathy?

Autonomic neuropathy can be a serious condition that affects the nerves that control automatic bodily functions such as blood pressure, heart rate, and digestion. It may lead to complications such as orthostatic hypotension, urinary problems, and gastrointestinal disorders. 

  • What happens if neuropathy is not treated?

This increases the risk of disease progression that causes the nervous system’s pathology. Meanwhile, the body’s protective resources are depleted. A painless myocardial infarction can occur with neuropathy because a person will not feel pain due to the damage to the sensitive nerves.

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Edward Medina
Edward Medina
15:34 30 Jun 22
Just such an amazing staff that makes you feel like part of their family. I’ve been going there for over 5 years now... and each visit I get the very best care and treatments that I have ever received in the 20+ years that I’ve been dealing with severe debilitating migraines. Since i started seeing them the number of my migraines has dropped from 15-20 a month to 2-3 every 3 month. I highly recommend them …they will change your life!read more
Daneisha Johnson
Daneisha Johnson
22:20 19 May 22
Dr. Askari was very kind and explained everything so I could understand. The other staff were nice as well. I would... have gave 5 stars but I was a little taken aback when I checked in and had to pay 600.00 upfront. I think that should have been discussed in a appointment confirmation call or email just so I could have been prepared.read more
Jean Cooper
Jean Cooper
16:54 29 Apr 22
I love the office staff they are friendly and very helpful. Dr. JODIE is very caring and understanding to your needs... and wants to help you. I will go back. would recommend Dr. Dr. Jodie to other Patients in a heart beat. The team works well together.read more
Linda M
Linda M
19:40 02 Apr 22
I was obviously stressed, needing to see a neurologist. The staff was so patient and Dr. Ansari was so kind. At one... point he told me to relax, we have time, when I was relaying my history of my condition. That helped ease my stress. I have seen 3 other neurologists and he was the only one who performed any assessment tests on my cognitive and physical skills. At one point I couldn't complete two assessments and got upset and cried. I was told, it's OK. That's why you're here. I was truly impressed, and super pleased with the whole experience!read more
Leslie Durham
Leslie Durham
15:05 01 Apr 22
I've been coming here for about 5 years. The staff are ALWAYS friendly and knowledgeable. The Doctors are the absolute... best!! Jodie Moore is always in such a great mood which is a plus when you are already stressed. Highly recommendedread more
Monica Del Bosque
Monica Del Bosque
14:13 25 Mar 22
Since my first post my thoughts have changed here. It's unfortunate. My doctor and PA were great, but the office staff... is horrible. They never call you back when they say they will, they misinform you, they cause you too much stress wondering what's going on, they don't keep you posted. They never answer the phone. At this point I've left four messages in the last week, and I have sent three messages. Twice from their portal and one direct email. No response. My appointment is on Monday morning at 8:30am, no confirmation on my insurance and what's going on. What the heck is going on, this is ridiculous!I've given up... the stress her office staff has put me through is just not worth it. You can do so much better, please clean house, either change out your office staff, or find a way for them to be more efficient please. You have to do something. This is not how you want to run your practice. It leaves a very bad impression on your business.read more
Ron Buckholz
Ron Buckholz
23:32 23 Mar 22
I was actually pleasantly surprised with this visit! It took me a long time to get the appointment scheduled because no... one answers your phones EVER! After a month, I finally got in, and your staff was warm, friendly, and I was totally impressed! I feel like you will take care of my needs!read more
Steve Nabavi
Steve Nabavi
16:28 16 Mar 22
It was a nice visit. Happy staff doing all they can do to comfort the patients in a very calming environment. You ask... me they are earned a big gold star on the fridge. My only complaint they didn't give me any cookies.read more
Katie Lewis
Katie Lewis
16:10 10 Feb 22
Had very positive appointments with Jodie and Dr. Sheth for my migraine care. Jodie was so fast with the injections and... has so much valuable info. I started to feel light headed during checkout and the staff was SO helpful—giving me a chair, water, and taking me into a private room until I felt better. Highly recommend this practice for migraine patients, they know what they’re doing!!read more
Joshua Martinez
Joshua Martinez
16:02 10 Dec 21
I was scheduled to be checked and just want to say that the staff was fantastic. They were kind and helpful. I was... asked many questions related to what was going on and not once did I feel as though I was being brushed off. The front desk staff was especially great in assisting me. I'm scheduled to go back for a mri and am glad that I'll be going there.read more
Isabel Ivy
Isabel Ivy
21:42 03 Nov 21
I had such a good experience with Lone Star Neurology, Brent my MRI Tech was so awesome and made sure I was very... comfortable during the appointment. He gave me ear plugs, a pillow, leg support and blanket, easiest MRI ever lol 🤣 My 72 hour EEG nurse Amanda was also so awesome. She made sure I was take care of over the 3 days and took her time with the electrodes to make sure it was comfortable for me! Paige was also a huge help in answering all my questions when it came to my test results, and letting me know her honest opinions about how I should go forth with my treatment.read more
Leslie Luce
Leslie Luce
17:37 20 Oct 21
The professionalism and want to help attitude of this office was present from the moment I contacted them. The follow... up and follow through as well as their willingness to find a way to schedule my dad was above and beyond. We visited two offices in the same day with the same experience. I am appreciative of this—we spend a lot of time with doctors and this was top notch start to finish.read more
robert Parker
robert Parker
16:38 16 Apr 21
I love going to this office. The staff is friendly and helpful. The doctor is great. I am getting the best... neurological tests and treatment I have ever had. The only reason I did not give them a 5 star rating is because it is impossible to reach a live person at the office to reschedule appointments. Every time I have tried to get through to the office it says all people are busy and I am sent to a voicemail. If they could get their phone answering fixed, I would give them a strong 5 stars.read more
MaryAnn Hornbaker
MaryAnn Hornbaker
00:26 25 Feb 21
Dr. Harney is an excellent Dr. I found him friendly , personable and thorough. I evidently am an unusual case. ... Therefore he spent a Hugh amount of time educating me. He even gave me literature to further explain my condition and how to follow up. This is something you rarely get from your doctors. So I am more than please with my doctor and his staff.read more
Roger Arguello
Roger Arguello
03:05 29 Jan 21
Always courteous, professional. The staff is very friendly and always work with you to find the best appointment time.... The care team has been great. Always taking the time to listen to your concerns and to find the best treatment.read more
Margaret Rowland
Margaret Rowland
01:12 27 Jan 21
I have been a patient at Lone Star Neurology for several years. Now both my adult daughters also are patients there. I... love Jodie. She is always so prompt whether it is a teleamed call are a visit in the office. She takes the time to explain everything to me and answers all my questions. I am so blessed to have Jodie as my doctor.read more
Susan Miller
Susan Miller
03:01 13 Jan 21
My husband had an accident 5 years ago and Lone Star Neurology has been such a blessing to us with my husbands care.... Jodie Moore is his provider and she is amazing! Jodie is very knowledgeable, caring, and thorough. She takes her time with you, making sure your needs are met and she is happy to answer any questions you may have. Lone Star Neurology’s patients are very lucky to have Jodie providing their care. Thank you Lone Star Neurology and especially Jodie for everything you have done for us. Jodie, you are the best!read more
Windalyn C
Windalyn C
01:32 09 Jan 21
Jodie is wonderful. She is very caring and knowledgeable. I have been to over a dozen neurologists, and none were able... to help me as much as they have here. Thanks!read more
Katie Kordel
Katie Kordel
00:40 09 Jan 21
Jodi Moore, nurse practitioner, is amazing. I have suffered from frequent, debilitating headaches for almost 20 years.... She has provided the best proactive and responsive care I have ever received. My quality of life has been greatly improved by her caring approach and tenacity in finding solutions.read more
Ellie Natsis
Ellie Natsis
15:41 07 Jan 21
I have had the best experience at this neurologist's office! For over a year I have been receiving iv treatments here... each month and my nurse, Bobbie is beyond wonderful!! She's so attentive, knowledgeable, caring, and detail oriented. She makes an otherwise uncomfortable experience much more pleasant and definitely puts me at ease! She also helps me with my insurance,ordering this specialty medication and dealing with the ordering process which is no easy feat.Needless to say, she goes above a beyond in every way and I'm so grateful to this office and to Bobbie for all they do for me!read more
Matt Morris
Matt Morris
15:39 07 Jan 21
Let me start by saying that I have been coming here for years. Due to my autoimmune disease, I am in this office... once every three weeks for multiple hours at a time. The office is very clean and the staff very friendly. My only complaint would be there communication via phone. They aren't the best at responding if you leave a voicemail and expect a call back. I understand that this is prob just due to the sheer number of alls they receive daily. What I can say I like the best about the office are the people. Bobby who handles my infusions is great. I never have any issues with her setting up my infusions. She is very quick to reply to messages sent via text and if she were to leave then my whole opinion of the office may change. I also enjoy people like Matt, Lauren, and Jodi. I appreciate all that they do for me and without this team I'm not sure I would be as happy as I am to visit the office as frequently as I have to. Please ensure that these folks are recognized as they are what makes my visit to this office so tolerable :).read more
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  1. November 23, 2023

    I was working in laboratories along side Lab Techs and students from China. I got Covid in January of 2020. It attacked my nervous systems both Autonomic and Peripheral. I had all the symptoms right away and it has just gotten worse. I have been to four different Neurologists. I have had every test there is. All the doctors I have seen agree with my diagnosis of Autonomic Nervous System Failure and damage to my Peripheral Nervous System. It is well documented that Covid attacks the Nervous System as well as the Cardio Pulmonary Systems. Most of the people who are diagnosed with Long Covid have what I have. Nothing can be done. I am 63, I was 60 when I started showing all the symptoms. I have an estimated 2 to 4 years left to live. I don’t feel like I can make it that far.

    • November 27, 2023

      Oh my gosh, I am so sorry to hear of your struggles and so young 🙁 my daughter (39) was hospitalized for c19 for 7 days and her poor body has never been the same. She was diagnosed with ANS autonomic neuropathy syndrome. It seems to be getting worse for her as new symptoms are revealing themselves ie; now RA. I refuse to believe there’s nothing that can be done. But where do we begin to look? She is having gastrointestinal problems which is typical of ANS. So frightening
      to be helpless when she struggles with swallowing every day food. My thoughts & prayers are with you & my daughter & all those struggling with long covid.

  2. March 4, 2024

    I’ve lived with Autonomic Neuropathy for over a decade. I’m 33 now and it was caused by my type one diabetes. Do not give up my friends. Some days I can’t do a thing but lay down but some days I can clean the entire house.

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