What is the Autonomic Nervous System

There are many divisions of the nervous system (or brain). It can get quite complicated, but for now, lets focus on the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

The brain controls every physiological function within our body, and the ANS controls very specific functions.

The Autonomic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system controls many vital functions. It regulates heart rate, digestions, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination and sexual arousal.

The ANS is divided into two divisions; the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). You may have heard of the sayings ‘fight or flight’ and ‘rest and digest’ – well, these are controlled by the SNS and PNS, of the ANS. The diagram below simplifies this division.

AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM

As you can see from the image below, the ANS has connections all over our body. Complicated cases need to be investigated thoroughly, including the autonomic nervous system.

Image source: By Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See "Book" section below)Bartleby.com: Gray's Anatomy, Plate 839, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=792179

Gray839

Any individual with issues pertaining to coughing, sneezing, swallowing, acid reflux and vomiting that isn’t otherwise explained must have their ANS looked into.

Autonomic Regulation

Autonomic regulation is essentially maintained by balance between the SNS and PNS [1]. We want our bodies to go back and forth between sympathetic drive and parasympathetic drive.  We must not be in one state all the time.

If you remember the idea of Fight or flight vs rest and digest it should make sense why balance is important.

We need to be able to fight or run away from a threat (stressor) in the appropriate setting while also being able to rest and digest when the time comes.

Our body literally diverts blood and energy to specific places in the body during SNS or PNS drive, so we need to make sure these processes are properly regulated.

Balance is huge – if we lose ANS regulation a wide range of symptoms may arise.

Autonomic Dysregulation

When autonomic dysfunction arises, we call this dysautonomia. Basically, dysregulation arises when the balance between SNS and PNS is lost.

Various conditions can feature autonomic dysregulation, including Parkinson’s Disease, HIV/AIDs, multiple system atrophy, autonomic failure, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, Ehler’s Danlos syndrome, autoimmune autonomic ganglionopathy and autonimic neuropathy.

It’s important to consider autonomic dysregulation for anyone with these symptoms, especially when treatment doesn’t seem to work.

  • Anhidrosis (diminished sweating) [2]
  • Anxiety [3]
  • Blurry or double vision [2]
  • Bowel incontinence [2]
  • Brain fog [2]
  • Constipation [3]
  • Dizziness [3]
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Exercise intolerance [2]
  • Chronic fatigue [3]
  • Insomnia [3]
  • Low blood pressure
  • Orthostatic hypotension [2]
  • Syncope (fainting) [3]
  • Tachycardia (fast heart rate)
  • Tunnel vision (since there is an effect on the pupils) [3]
  • Urinary incontinence or urinary retention [2]
  • Vertigo [3]
  • Weakness [3]

To learn more about autonomic dysregulation, please click here, for an accompanying article.

References