The Autonomic Nervous System, and the dysfunction of it (well even the function of it really) is something that until fairly recently I didn’t know much about. In fact it’s safe to say I am well and truly still learning about it and how it affects my body.
You see, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS) is a form of autonomic dysfunction, so I’ve been reading a little about it and learning. I don’t feel like I know a lot about the subject, in fact I know I don’t. I’ve got more appointments coming up to find out more about what is going on with my autonomic nervous system and how it is (or should that be isn’t?) working. But for the time being, in the aim of raising a little awareness about it I can give you a little overview of what I do know.
The Autonomic Nervous System is one most people do not have to think about in their day to day lives, it does everything necessary automatically. You stand up, the autonomic nervous system automatically adjusts everything required to cope with gravity, it adjusts your blood pressure and heart rate, dilates blood vessels to push the blood back up to your heart, directs the blood to where it is necessary and more. And it’s not just changes in position that it adjusts those for; changes in temperature, changes in hormones, during digestion and more, all require the autonomic nervous system to do it’s job. It also controls sweating, temperature and more.
With autonomic dysfunction, these things don’t necessarily happen. So for example, when I stand up, or even sit with my feet down on the floor (like you usually would on a chair) my blood pools in my feet, turning them a blue/purple colour and causing them to swell. I get dizzy and sometimes faint when changing position because my blood pressure drops. If I eat a big meal, I feel faint afterwards while my body digests it.
If I enter somewhere hot I get very dizzy and sometimes faint; so those luxurious air conditioned shops in summer, or the really warm ones in winter, come with consequences for me – on exiting an air conditioned shop in a hot summer I feel very faint as my body adjusts to the sudden temperature change, and the same thing happens on entering a heated shop during a cold winter.
It can be freezing cold but I can feel warm, and it can be boiling hot but I can feel frozen. I can suddenly get very hot which in turn causes me to feel faint. I frequently sweat buckets despite not actually being that hot; I’ve even had to explain to consultants why my summer vest top is absolutely drenched in sweat at appointments even though it’s winter and it’s not that hot in the hospital!
I’m still learning exactly what is wrong with my autonomic nervous system, tests for Postural Tachycardia Syndrome have revealed not only what was expected, but also other abnormalities which need to be clarified with another specialist. As I learn more about autonomic dysfunction and the effects it is having on my life – I’m still not sure what symptoms are caused by what yet – I will post more about it.