For her 2 February, 2018 Isabel Vallejo
The first symptoms of this condition are often ignored and if not treated on time, they can leave a negative impact on those who experience them.
Medical advisor Nilson López, cardiologist
It is normal to faint and lose consciousness on occasion. But when these symptoms happen more frequently without any apparent cause, this is a red flag; not because these are life threatening situations, but because they are a potential sign of dysautonomia. This term may be new for some, even for medical specialists. According to the experts on this condition, however, despite this condition being diagnosed for the first time a little over two decades ago, new generations are already familiar with the term.
As cardiologist Nilson López explains, aside from being a disease in itself, dysautonomia is an overarching condition that can occur in association with others, “You could say it’s like a box that several conditions fit into. Dysautonomia affects the autonomic nervous system, which is in charge of controlling blood pressure, pulse, the sweat glands, and digestive and urinary function, etc. Dysautonomia affects one of these functions and, in most patients, manifests in the form of nausea and a loss of consciousness. This is only one way it manifests, however, as conditions of the autonomic nervous system and how they develop depend on what is affected”.
Specialists also point out that women, more than men, are more likely to see a doctor about this type of condition. For a better understanding of dysautonomia, however, there are five things you should know.
- The causes are still unknown
In younger patients, the origin of dysautonomia is still very unclear. According to López, studies show that some groups of families are genetically predisposed to develop the condition. In other cases, however, the reasons are more evident. “For example, there is a form of dysautonomia in diabetic patients that manifests along with blood pressure and heart rate conditions. Yet there are also rare forms of this condition that are very specific and less common”.
- When is it time to be concerned?
The evidence is clear that dysautonomia can occur at any age. In its early stages, Dr. López notes the following symptoms: dizziness when standing or when changing positions (from sitting to standing or lying down to sitting up), weakness in the legs, perspiration, a loss of consciousness, heart palpitations (tachycardia), and even low blood pressure. The U.S. National Library of Medicine warns that people with dysautonomia tend to feel fatigued and weak, their eyelids appear to be inflamed or droopy, and they are very drowsy and even pallid. In general, their feet and hands are always cold and their forehead tends to be sweaty.
- Not age-specific
According to Dr. López, about 25% of the world’s population may have symptoms of dysautonomia at some point in their lives. Even once a diagnosis is made, a long period of time can go by without symptoms manifesting and then a relapse can happen. The patient must therefore learn to live with this and of course lead a healthy lifestyle. With that in mind, things like getting good sleep, eating healthy and leading a low-stress life can help keep this condition under control.
- How is it diagnosed?
This depends on the individual’s age and situation. With younger populations, dysautonomia is diagnosed by discussing symptoms with a doctor and getting a clinical exam. Other patients will need tests such as the Tilt-table Test which attempts to simulate a situation in which the patient loses consciousness. With older populations, their blood pressure is taken while they are in different positions or they an ambulatory blood pressure monitoring device will be used. There are also specialized tests designed exclusively for certain groups of patients that are clinically harder to diagnose.
- Keys to treating it
“Drink plenty of liquids between 2 to 3 liters of water a day and increase your salt intake. When you drink a lot of water, the body’s normal response is to release this liquid and urinate frequently. When this happens in conjunction with a higher salt intake, the kidney exchanges a molecule of salt for a molecule of water, which helps retain the water to eliminate the extra salt. This increases the volume of blood in the blood vessels and reduces susceptibility to low blood pressure,” Dr. López indicates. Doing exercise daily is also recommended. As a final suggestion, do not postpone meals; to avoid symptoms from manifesting, try to eat smaller amounts more frequently.
Fatigue: a visible sign People with dysautonomia may appear to be weak and lazy, as they will feel the need to lay down for long periods of time. This is due to the symptoms of fatigue this condition causes.