Autonomic dysfunction: Diagnosis and management

Handb Clin Neurol. 2019:167:123-137. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-12-804766-8.00008-X.


The autonomic nervous system is designed to maintain physiologic homeostasis. Its widespread connections make it vulnerable to disruption by many disease processes including primary etiologies such as Parkinson's disease, multiple system atrophy, dementia with Lewy bodies, and pure autonomic failure and secondary etiologies such as diabetes mellitus, amyloidosis, and immune-mediated illnesses. The result is numerous symptoms involving the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and urogenital systems. Patients with autonomic dysfunction (AUD) often have peripheral and/or cardiac denervation leading to impairment of the baroreflex, which is known to play a major role in determining hemodynamic outcome during orthostatic stress and low cardiac output states. Heart rate and plasma norepinephrine responses to orthostatic stress are helpful in diagnosing impairment of the baroreflex in patients with orthostatic hypotension (OH) and suspected AUD. Similarly, cardiac sympathetic denervation diagnosed with MIBG scintigraphy or 18F-DA PET scanning has also been shown to be helpful in distinguishing preganglionic from postganglionic involvement and in diagnosing early stages of neurodegenerative diseases. In this chapter, we review the causes of AUD, the pathophysiology and resulting cardiovascular manifestations with emphasis on the diagnosis and treatment of OH.

Keywords: Autonomic dysfunction; Autonomic nervous system; Baroreflex; Neurodegenerative diseases; Orthostatic hypotension; Sympathetic denervation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / therapy*
  • Humans