What are the Symptoms of Autonomic Neuropathy?

Autonomic neuropathy is a type of peripheral neuropathy that affects the autonomic nervous system, which controls involuntary bodily functions, such as heart rate, digestion, blood pressure, and temperature regulation. The symptoms of autonomic neuropathy can vary depending on which bodily functions are affected and the underlying cause. Common symptoms include:

  1. Cardiovascular Symptoms:
    • Orthostatic Hypotension: A drop in blood pressure upon standing, leading to dizziness, lightheadedness, or fainting.
    • Tachycardia or Bradycardia: An abnormal heart rate, either too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia).
    • Arrhythmias: Irregular heart rhythms can lead to palpitations or an awareness of one’s heartbeat.
    • Exercise Intolerance: Difficulty tolerating physical activity due to an inability to appropriately adjust heart rate and blood pressure.
  2. Gastrointestinal Symptoms:
    • Gastroparesis: Delayed emptying of the stomach, leading to symptoms like nausea, vomiting, early satiety, and abdominal discomfort.
    • Diarrhea or Constipation: Altered bowel function, which can lead to chronic diarrhea or constipation.
    • Bloating: Abdominal distention and discomfort may occur.
  3. Genitourinary Symptoms:
    • Urinary Problems: Difficulty emptying the bladder completely, leading to urinary retention or incontinence.
    • Erectile Dysfunction: Men with autonomic neuropathy may experience difficulties with achieving or maintaining an erection.
  4. Sweating Abnormalities:
    • Anhidrosis or Hyperhidrosis: Abnormal sweating patterns, including reduced (anhidrosis) or excessive (hyperhidrosis) sweating, particularly in the hands and feet.
  5. Body Temperature Regulation:
    • Intolerance to Temperature Extremes: Difficulty regulating body temperature, leading to intolerance of hot or cold environments.
  6. Pupillary Abnormalities: Changes in pupil size and reactivity to light, affecting vision.
  7. Respiratory Symptoms: Breathing difficulties, including shortness of breath and shallow breathing, can occur.
  8. Dry Skin and Mucous Membranes: Dry eyes and mouth are common, known as xerophthalmia and xerostomia, respectively.
  9. Weight Changes: Unexplained weight loss or gain may occur due to alterations in digestion and metabolism.
  10. Fatigue: A general feeling of tiredness and fatigue is common due to the body’s constant effort to compensate for autonomic dysfunction.

The symptoms of autonomic neuropathy can result from various underlying causes, such as diabetes, autoimmune diseases, or neurological conditions. The severity and combination of symptoms can vary from person to person. Early diagnosis and management are important for addressing specific symptoms and underlying causes. Treatment may involve lifestyle adjustments, medications to manage specific symptoms, and addressing the primary condition contributing to autonomic neuropathy. A healthcare professional, often a neurologist or specialist in autonomic disorders, can help diagnose and provide guidance for managing autonomic neuropathy.