The autonomic nervous system controls vital body processes over which we have no voluntary control, including heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, breathing rate, digestion, bladder function and endocrine secretions.
Autonomic disorders are neurological diseases in which the autonomic nervous system ceases to function properly. Some examples include:
- Small fiber neuropathy
- Large fiber neuropathy
- Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS)
- Shy-Drager syndrome
- Pure autonomic failure
- Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)
Autonomic Reflex Laboratory
Disorders of the autonomic nervous system can be difficult to diagnose without advanced methods.
The Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Autonomic Reflex Laboratory is a state-of-the-science facility that is unique in southeastern Wisconsin.
Here, physicians with expertise in autonomic disorders use non-invasive procedures to precisely assess symptoms of autonomic disorders such as:
- Sweat response and distribution of sweat patterns
- Other symptoms of abnormal autonomic reflexes
These tests help determine whether an autonomic disorder is benign or life-threatening and provide information needed for planning treatment.
For some patients, skin biopsies are also useful for diagnosing small fiber nerve changes that lead to autonomic failure and painful neuropathy. In most cases, there is no cure for autonomic disorders, and treatments are focused on controlling symptoms.
These treatments depend greatly on patients' diagnosis and specific needs, and can range from various drug regimens to treat fainting and gastrointestinal symptoms to botox injections for patients with hyperhidrosis.