Dysautonomia has been a mystery illness for over 200 years but since the autumn of 2010, it has been my reality. My symptoms included lightheadedness, chronic pain, extreme fatigue and body weakness, anxiety/panic, frequent headaches, fainting, and chronic delayed gastric emptying (gastroparesis).
Finally, in late January 2014, I was diagnosed with a type of dysautonomia called neurocardiogenic syncope.
Dysautonomia International reports that the dysautonomia conditions affect millions of people globally, and many of these people have yet to be diagnosed, or have been misdiagnosed with another illness.
The organization explains that the autonomic nervous system (ANS) is responsible for functions like increasing and decreasing heart rate and aiding in gastrointestinal function.
Every time you stand up, gravity pulls your blood down to your lower extremities, particularly your legs. In a fully-functional ANS, the brain then compensates by sending signals to increase your heart rate and to tighten the blood vessels in the legs, which forces the blood back up toward the brain.
However, in an individual with neurocardiogenic syncope, the body does not carry out this process correctly.
Dr. Blair Grubb explains that syncope, the medical term for fainting, occurs when the blood pressure and heart rate are not properly regulated. (2)
Unfortunately, I have these fainting episodes unpredictably. I usually have put my body through either strenuous physical exertion, or an abrupt change in position, which can be as simple as getting out of bed or standing up from a seated position.
My heart begins to race and my blood pressure drops. Blood pools in my legs, which results in the brain losing blood supply, which in turn causes loss of consciousness, or fainting.
This reaction by the body is called orthostatic intolerance (OI), and is what Dysautonomia International calls the hallmark of generalized dysautonomia.
To determine a person’s susceptibility to syncope due to poor autonomic control, a patient is given a tilt table test.