Sick, fatigued, panic attacks, and heart flutters – What is Dysautonomia
Unless you suffer from multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or traumatic brain injury, dysautonomia is probably a word that you’ve never heard of. The problem with that, is that the symptoms of dysautonomia are probably the most difficult to deal with in when it comes to chronic illness. It’s even a condition that can exist on it’s own.
The symptoms of dysautonomia affect a wide variety of organ symptoms. Because of this, many patients with this problem will get their heart or digestive system checked, when the problem really lies within the nervous system.
Here are some of the symptoms:
- Extreme fatigue
- Heart palpitations
- Brain fog
- Frequent dizziness and feinting
- Extreme spikes in heart rate
- Severe abdominal discomfort
- Excessive sweating
- Anxiety and panic attacks
Because of the nature of these symptoms, dysautonomia is often considered an invisible illness. A diagnosis of dysautonomia is usually given in conjunction with another condition like Multiple sclerosis. However, certain conditions like POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) and neurocardiogenic syncope are diseases that are solely related to dysautonomia in general.
What’s Gone Wrong?
In an attempt for the simplest explanation possible, the brain and the body’s organ systems are not on the same page. Now this is nothing new to chiropractors, because this has been the crux of chiropractic theory for the past 120 years.
All Nerves are NOT Created Equal
Most people know that the brain controls the body. The brain does that through the nerves.
When people think about nerves, they only really think about it in terms of pain like from sciatica or a pinched nerve in the neck. The truth is that the body uses nerves to control the rhythm of the heart, the speed of digestion, and the actions of your adrenals.
For the sake a simplicity, we’re going to break up your nerves into two systems:
Somatic Nervous System – This is the branch that most people know about. These nerves control your voluntary muscles. If you want to lift your arm up to reach for an object overhead, you are engaging your somatic system. This is also the branch that can feel pain from pinched nerves.
Autonomic Nervous System -the autonomic system can easily just be called the automatic system, because this system is on autopilot. Our minds don’t have direct control over this system, and thank God for that. This system controls how fast your heart beats, when to release insulin, and it even has influence on glands that regulate the immune system.
This is a super important system in controlling the body, and it would overwhelm us if we had to think about it all the time. These functions are dictated primarily by the hypothalamus in the brain, the vagus nerve, sacral plexus, and the sympathetic chain.
Chronic Fatigue, POTS, Vaso-vagal syncope, and More
While you may not know about dysautonomia, you may know the names of the players above. As a chirorpactor who focuses on Atlas Displacement Complex, I see several cases per year where someone’s main complaint is chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and Vaso-vagal syncope, and dysautonomia is hallmark of these conditions.
These patients are usually put through anxiety inducing tests that are designed to force their symptoms to the surface. Do a google search for table-tilt test, and see how these tests throw patients into a tail spin.
Why does it work?? Truthfully, we don’t fully know why chiropractic can help these conditions. It’s still being studied. We suspect it has to do with something called the HPA-axis.
Your autonomic nervous system is responsible for your response to stress. When your brain perceives danger, a chunk of the brain called the hypothalamus starts triggering a series of events to prepares your body for fight or flight. When you hear stories about little old ladies lifting cars to save their grandson, this is the system responsible for it.
It causes your blood pressure and heart rate to rise, your focus to drop, your muscles become primed for fast movement, and your reflexes are hyper sensitive.
It’s like a system that gives you temporary super powers
But you never want this system on all of the time. When this system is chronically activated, you see people burned out from stress, their chances of heart disease and stroke sky rocket, and their cells will literally age faster.
This system has also been implicated in the development of dysautonomia in patients with chronic fatigue and other neurodegenerative disease.
POTS Disease case
The spine has important linkages into the brain of every single human being. Signals from the spine also link to the cerebellum which is connected to the HPA-axis. While these are certainly large leaps to take from an anatomic stand point, there are cases to suggest that the health of the spine can influence the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
I remember taking care of a woman with POTS disease a few years ago. Here’s a snap shot of her life:
– Spikes of heart rate up to 200 beats per min when going to sleep
– Frequent bouts of constipation and irritable bowel syndrome
– Numbness in the face
– 3x/week panic attacks
After her first correction, the numbness in her face vanished. After her 3rd correction, she was no longer having panic attacks weekly. After 3 months, her EKG and table-tilt test were found to be normal again.
While we may not have all the answers, we do know that the structure of the spine may play an important role for this sensitive class of patients.
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Dr. Chung is a practicing Structural Chiropractor in the West Palm Beach area. He has been published in peer reviewed scientific journals and is a sought after speaker in health and wellness. Follow his blog at http://keystonechiropractic.smbusinesswebsite.com/category/keystone-chiropractic-blog/ or find him on twitter at @drjonathanchung