Disorders of the autonomic nervous system: Part 1. Pathophysiology and clinical features

Ann Neurol. 1987 May;21(5):419-30. doi: 10.1002/ana.410210502.


Autonomic dysfunction may result from diseases that affect primarily either the central nervous system or the peripheral autonomic nervous system. The most common pathogenesis of disturbed autonomic function in central nervous system diseases is degeneration of the intermediolateral cell columns (progressive autonomic failure) or disease or damage to descending pathways that synapse on the intermediolateral column cells (spinal cord lesions, cerebrovascular disease, brainstem tumors, multiple sclerosis). The peripheral autonomic nervous system may be damaged in isolation in the acute and subacute autonomic neuropathies or in association with a generalized peripheral neuropathy. The peripheral neuropathies most likely to cause severe autonomic disturbance are those in which small myelinated and unmyelinated fibers are damaged in the baroreflex afferents, the vagal efferents to the heart, and the sympathetic efferent pathways to the mesenteric vascular bed. Acute demyelination of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves in the Guillain-Barré syndrome may also cause acute autonomic dysfunction. Although autonomic disturbances may occur in other types of peripheral neuropathy, they are rarely clinically important.

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Blood Pressure
  • Dysautonomia, Familial / physiopathology
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / physiopathology
  • Muscle, Smooth, Vascular / innervation
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Skin / blood supply
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology
  • Sweat Glands / innervation
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology