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Damage to the nerves that help your organs and organ systems to function can cause a condition called autonomic neuropathy (AN). This nerve damage disturbs signal processing between the autonomic nervous system and the brain. Injured autonomic nerves can affect your:
AN is often associated with other medical conditions and diseases and certain medications. Your symptoms may vary based on the cause of your neuropathy and the location of your nerve damage.
Factors that might cause injury to the autonomic nerves include:
The following people have an increased risk of AN:
Other factors that may increase your risk of AN include:
AN can affect many organs and cause an array of symptoms. Early symptoms of AN include dizziness or faintness when rising or standing, and vomiting or feeling nauseated when eating. You may also have disturbances in bowel movements, bladder control, or sexual functioning.
Other symptoms may affect the functioning of specific organs and organ systems:
The symptoms affecting your bladder may include frequent urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence or an inability to empty your bladder.
The symptoms of AN that affect your digestive system can include:
The symptoms of AN that affect your reproductive organs can include:
The symptoms of AN that affect your heart and blood vessels can include:
The symptoms of AN that affect your eyes can include slow pupil adjustment from dark to light and difficulty driving at night.
The symptoms of AN that affect your sweat glands can include dry skin on your feet and excessive sweating or lack of sweating.
Other symptoms of AN can include unexplained weight loss and low blood glucose without warning signals, such as shakiness.
See your doctor if you have symptoms of AN. Early diagnosis may improve your outlook.
Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your risk factors, observations during a physical examination, and test results. Your doctor may conduct the following tests:
Treatments for AN target the damaged nerves and any underlying condition causing injury to the nerves. Different treatments are available depending on your symptoms.
Digestive and gastrointestinal treatments include:
Bladder and urinary treatments include:
Sexual dysfunction treatments include:
Heart and blood pressure treatments include:
Abnormal sweating treatment includes:
Addressing conditions that may cause neuropathy can help prevent its development. Some suggestions include:
Your outlook varies based on the cause of your nerve damage and how well it can be treated. In some cases, the nerves can repair themselves. In others, symptoms remain the same or even worsen despite treatment.
Written by: Suzanne Allen and Marijane Leonard
Medically reviewed on: Apr 24, 2017: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI
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