Surprising Autonomic Symptoms You May Not Know About
Peripheral neuropathy symptoms are determined by what specific type of nerve has been damaged. Autonomic symptoms, though less common, can be the scariest, as they impact functions that we don’t consciously control.
First, the good news: Autonomic symptoms of peripheral neuropathy are among the least common.
When it comes to your nervous system, there are many different ways its damage can manifest itself within the body. To be brief, nerves of are are part of every single thing your body does and experiences.
When you move your arm, you’ve got your motor nerves to thank. When you can tell how cold it is, or that you’ve burned your hand on a hot stove — your sensory nerves were responsible for relaying that information.
And then you have your autonomic nerves. They’re in charge of just about everything else.
Your Built-In Autopilot System
We do a lot of things without really thinking about them at all. What’s more is that many of those things are what keep us alive. We don’t consciously control our breathing, nor do we spend our days focused on making sure our hearts are beating steadily. Those just kind of…happen for us, and we in a large part have our autonomic nervous system to thank for that.
These nerves are incredibly important, and they’re working every single day — morning, noon, and night — to make sure that your body stays alive and healthy. Even when you’re fast asleep, your autonomic nerves are hard at work regulating your blood floor, keeping your heart beating, and making sure you don’t sleep for longer than your body actually needs to.
So then what happens when autonomic nerves begin to break down and no longer function as they are intended to? Consequences emerge, like reduced blood flow, bladder and digestive problems, dry eyes and mouth, dizziness, and more.
One of the most important things that your autonomic nervous system regulates is blood flow.
Your blood vessels are constantly expanding and contracting so that they can push blood to whatever specific part of your body needs it most.
A good example of this can be seen when you do something like get up from a seated position. Every time you do this, your autonomic nervous system tells your blood vessels and heart to work together to adjust your blood pressure in response to this sudden change in posture, keeping the blood evenly distributed throughout your body.
When this fails to happen, you experience a “head rush,” as a result of insufficient blood getting up to your brain and providing it with the oxygen it needs.
When these nerves get damaged, blood flow problems can cause issues ranging from mild to serious.
Inability to maintain blood pressure can lead to poor circulation symptoms like swelling and feelings of heaviness in hands, feet, and legs or uncomfortable temperature fluctuations, such as unusually cold hands and feet. Numbness and tingling are most commonly reported first signs of poor circulation and sometimes described as pins and needles.
Because poor circulation depletes tissues of oxygen and nutrients, nerve cells become increasingly damaged. When damage escalates, symptoms escalate. You may begin to notice symptoms to progress, such as:
- Electrical pulses
- Extreme sensitivity to touch
Your blood flow takes care of a lot in your body, so its interruption can have some serious consequences, including peripheral neuropathy progression.
Bladder & Digestive Problems
Every single day (and night), your digestive system works to filter nutrients out of the food you consume, separating the waste and passing the rest on to where it needs to go.
Autonomic nervous system symptoms can involve problems with your digestive system in many ways. Things can go wrong at any part of the pipeline, and the consequences can be mild to serious, depending on where they occur.
Weakness in the esophagus muscles can lead to food getting stuck, while nerve failure to the stomach muscles can cause issues with digestion. Your bowel muscles can also be impacted by autonomic nerve failure, causing them to either over- or under-act.
Bladder function is the domain of your autonomic nerves as well, and issues in this area can lead to more serious problems down the line. If your bladder muscles aren’t emptying your bladder properly, problems like a urinary tract infection may eventually develop. In fact, many bladder-related issues related to autonomic neuropathy are often not discovered until they’ve led to this type of secondary issue.
And There’s More…
Your autonomic nervous system regulates some of the bigger systems in your body like your blood flow, your digestion, and your bowels…but it’s also in charge of a host of tiny things, as well. Everything from your tears to your saliva falls under the purview of your autonomic nervous system. So when autonomic nerves degenerate, the symptoms can manifest themselves in a particularly dizzying number of ways.
Signs and symptoms of autonomic neuropathy depend on the nerves affected and might include:
- Sweating too much or too little, inability to regulate body temperature
- Dizziness and fainting
- Intolerance to exercise
- Inability to feel hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Urinary problems, like the inability to feel a full bladder
- Sexual dysfunction
- Uncontrolled blood pressure
- Heaviness in legs
- Rapid heart rate at rest
- Digestive issues, like diarrhea and constipation
- Eye problems, like dry eyes and difficulty seeing at night