Understanding The Body’s OS: The Autonomic Nervous System

If your body were a computer, the autonomic nervous system would be its operating system. The autonomic nervous system regulates a variety of organs and bodily functions, ensuring that they work properly. Thanks to the autonomic nervous system, your heart beats, your lungs breathe, and various other body processes occur without your conscious effort. Disorders of the autonomic system can put your health gravely at risk, but there are medical devices and equipment that can help detect and treat problems with this indispensable system.

The autonomic nervous system directs a variety of internal organs, including the heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, liver, kidneys, blood vessels, and various glands. Some common bodily functions governed by the autonomic nervous system include:
  • Heart rates
  • Breathing rates
  • Metabolism
  • Urination
  • Saliva production
  • Sexual response
  • Body temperature
  • Production of tears
  • Digestion
  • Defecation
  • Balance of water and electrolytes
  • Sweat Production

There are two divisions of the autonomic nervous system: the parasympathetic and sympathetic divisions. When the autonomic nervous system gets information about the body and environmental conditions affecting it, two things will typically happen. The sympathetic division will respond by stimulating body processes, such as speeding up the heart rate or contracting the pupils – or the parasympathetic division will respond by inhibiting these processes.

One of the better-known bodily processes controlled by the autonomic nervous system is the fight or flight response. This is a physiological reaction to a perceived threat or traumatic event. When human fight or flight responses are triggered, the adrenal medulla produces a variety of hormones that may amp up energy levels or strength.

Two nerve cells form the primary components of an autonomic nerve pathway. One cell is housed in the spinal cord or brain stem and is connected by nerve fibers to the other cell, which can be found housed in a cluster of nerve cells referred to as an autonomic ganglion. Ganglia for the sympathetic division are typically found near the spinal cord, while ganglia for the parasympathetic division are found near the organs with which they connect. Nerve fibers from the ganglia connect them to the organs they regulate.

The autonomic nervous system communicates via neurotransmitters - chemical messengers produced by the body. The two chemical messengers used by the autonomic nervous system are acetylcholine and norepinephrine. Cholinergic fibers secrete acetylcholine, while adrenergic fibers secrete norepinephrine. Acetylcholine is typically used in parasympathetic effects, while norepinephrine is commonly used for sympathetic responses. Acetylcholine is sometimes used to cause sympathetic effects, however.

Common Disorders of the Autonomic Nervous System

There are a number of problems that can occur with the autonomic nervous system, and many of them can have serious health effects, including heart problems, blood pressure problems, erectile dysfunction, and difficulty breathing, among others. Autonomic nervous system disorders can occur on their own, or they may be a symptom of another illness, such as Parkinson's disease or diabetes. Special medical devices are often used to detect these disorders.

Autonomic dysfunction occurs when nerves of the autonomic nervous system are damaged. The disorder may affect all or just a part of the ANS. In many cases, the conditions that cause damage to the ANS are temporary and can be reversed. In other circumstances, the conditions are permanent and will likely grow worse over time.

Some types of autonomic nervous system disorders include:
  • Multiple System Atrophy - Multiple System Atrophy, or MSA, is a deadly form of autonomic dysfunction. The disorder resembles Parkinson's disease, but develops at a faster rate. Patients diagnosed with multiple system atrophy typically have a life expectancy of just five to 10 years from their diagnosis. No cure is known, and no treatment available can halt its progression. Most people diagnosed with this rare disorder are age 40 or above.

    Some common symptoms of MSA include fainting spells, poor bladder control, and abnormal heart rate, as well as sexual dysfunction. Over time, motor control impairments and difficulty with speech and mobility can also manifest.

  • Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome - Symptoms of this disorder, which impacts the heart rate, range from mild to severe. POTS can affect any age group. Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome is often caused by other ailments, such as diabetes, Lyme disease, mononucleosis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and various other diseases.
  • NeuroCardiogenic Syncope - NCS is the most common form of autonomic nervous system disorder. Symptoms can range from mild to severe. NCS manifests as a loss of consciousness, accompanied by decreased heart rate and arterial blood pressure. It typically occurs when the patient is standing, and emotional stress can trigger an episode. Injury from fainting can pose a serious health risk.

  • Hereditary Sensory and Autonomic Neuropathies - HSAN can cause an inability to feel pain or a loss of feeling. In many cases, the disorder begins with the lower legs and feet, and the lower arms and hands. Numbness and tingling are the initial symptoms, and over time patients may lose feeling in their hands and feet. Affected areas of the body may also fall victim to frequent ulcers and wounds. This disorder runs in families and often begins in infancy. HSAN is relatively rare.
  • Holmes-Adie Syndrome Holmes-Adie Syndrome impacts the nerves that control eye muscles, resulting in diminished vision. The disorder causes one pupil to be larger than the other and will also cause the pupil to slowly constrict in bright light. The disorder can also inhibit deep tendon reflexes. Holmes-Adie Syndrome has a variety of causes, including viral infection, bacterial infection, alcoholism, autoimmune disorders, and diabetes.

People who suspect they may have an ANS disorder should seek medical treatment as soon as possible, as catching disorders early can often allow more effective mitigation of the problem.

How Doctors Treat ANS Disorders

Autonomic nervous system disorders have a variety of treatments, depending on the type of damage to the system and its causes. Treatment of autonomic nervous system disorders typically involve treatment of diseases or disorders contributing to ANS disorders.

For example, if an autoimmune neuropathy is found, medical professionals will treat the issue with immunomodulatory therapies. If diabetes is the underlying cause of ANS problems, doctors will try to obtain a more strict control of blood glucose through dietary changes and drug therapy. People with ANS disorders will usually need to avoid alcohol use, as it can have a detrimental impact.

ANS Assessment System

Regular testing of the autonomic nervous system is recommended for people living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes by the American Diabetes Association. An advanced autonomic nervous system testing machine is available from Medical Device Depot, a leading online seller of medical devices and medical equipment.

The ANS Assessment System provides fast and non-invasive tests of the autonomic nervous system. This device can help detect clinical autonomic disorders, as well as major illnesses and health risks that may otherwise be left undetected until they reach an advanced stage.

The device can assess patients' risk of
  • Sudden Death
  • Silent Heart Attack
  • Syncope
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiac autonomatic neuropathy
  • Diabetic autonomoic neuropathy
  • Vascular abnormalities
  • Orthostatic hypotension
  • Other hidden diseases

The device works well in just about any medical practice system and provides a comprehensive assessment of the autonomic nervous system. The device has a three-year warranty, and clinics and hospitals that purchase it have access to toll-free technical support.

For medical practices seeking a convenient and reliable way to measure patient autonomic nervous system health, the ANS Assessment System, and the Sudomotor available from Medical Device Depot, provides an excellent tool.