Autonomic nervous system disorders in stroke

Clin Auton Res. 1999 Dec;9(6):325-33. doi: 10.1007/BF02318379.


Disturbances of the autonomic nervous system are common in patients with various cerebrovascular diseases. They are attributed to damage of the central autonomic network, particularly in the frontoparietal cortical areas and in the brain stem, or to a disruption of the autonomic pathways descending from the hypothalamus via the mesencephalon, pons, and medulla to the spinal cord. The most common clinical problems include abnormalities in heart rate and blood pressure regulation, reflecting cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction, and asymmetric sweating with cold hemiplegic limbs, reflecting changes in the sudomotor and vasomotor regulatory systems. Bladder and bowel dysfunction and impotence are also frequent complaints after stroke, but the present knowledge concerning their prevalence and clinical significance is still limited. Cardiovascular autonomic dysfunction, which is mainly related to increased sympathetic activity, is most evident in the acute phase of stroke, whereas other autonomic disorders, such as abnormal sweating, are long-standing or even irreversible. In addition to the well-established sympathetic hyperfunction, abnormalities of the parasympathetic nervous system may also contribute to the autonomic imbalance after stroke. Reliable recognition of autonomic dysfunction using quantitative analysis methods is important, because these disturbances are not only subjectively disabling and uncomfortable, but they may also be prognostically unfavorable. Moreover, quantitative measurements also form the ground for successive treatment of various stroke-related autonomic disorders.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Blood Pressure
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Heart Rate
  • Hemiplegia
  • Humans
  • Stroke / complications*
  • Stroke / physiopathology*