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Avoiding Autonomic Neuropathy through early detection

Updated on January 1, 2014

Autonomic neuropathy is perhaps the most life-threatening form of diabetic neuropathy. The reason why it is considered as such is because of the type of nerves that it damages. Unlike any other neuropathy, autonomic neuropathy affects the involuntary controlling mechanisms of the body. Heart contractions, bladder control and respiration are just a few examples of these functions. Because they are somehow controlled by the subconscious mind, treatment is oftentimes difficult.

Autonomic neuropathy is not a disease but a group of symptoms resulting from damage in the specific nerves of the body. Although most cases of neuropathy are linked with diabetes, there are also other causes that point out to the occurrence of autonomic neuropathy. Excessive alcohol intake, spinal cord damage and surgeries or procedures that can cause injury to certain nerves are just a few examples of outside factors.


When autonomic neuropathy is discovered in its late stages, it can be severely fatal. For instance, when the nerves controlling the action of the heart is affected, this may cause changes in the heart rate and heart rhythm which can later on result to a more serious complication called cardiac arrhythmias. Aside from the heart, other major organs affected are the lungs, the brain, the digestive tract and the reproductive organs.

Laboratory Examinations to diagnose autonomic neuropathy
There is no confirmatory test to diagnose autonomic neuropathy; however, there are series of exams that can help in determining whether or not the symptoms are specific to neuropathy or that of other diseases. Upon medical history taking and assessment, if the physician finds out that you have several risk factors then he/she may directly diagnose you with having autonomic neuropathy. In the event that there are no risk factors that can relate to your symptoms, then specific tests will be ordered.

The type of exams that you are going to undergo mainly depends on what type of symptoms you are experiencing. For symptoms related to heart function, the doctor can order tests such as the cardiac function test, a round the clock blood pressure monitoring and the cardiovagal stimulation test.

If the symptoms are related to digestive system function, the doctor would probably order the test called gastric emptying study. The test is given to help determine the pace by which the stomach empties food and passes it into the intestines. Delayed gastric emptying would mean that there is possible damage to the nerves controlling this process. Although there are also other diseases that may cause gastric emptying, the symptoms that you are experiencing will also be closely examined before a diagnosis of autonomic neuropathy is made.

With symptoms related to reproductive system functioning, the general test that will be prescribed is the nerve conduction test. Men are commonly affected by autonomic neuropathy occurring in the reproductive organs. Erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation are always associated with infertility and impotence; not many people know that it may also be caused by autonomic neuropathy. Without the transmission of electrical impulses into the sexual organs, there will be difficulty in achieving an erection. Faulty nerves account for this occurrence.

The most common organ affected by autonomic neuropathy is the bladder. Usually, people with autonomic neuropathy in this area are prone to urinary incontinence. However, incontinence is not enough to come up with an autonomic neuropathy diagnosis. A series of urinalysis or urine specimen tests are conducted to confirm the existence of such disease.

Management for autonomic neuropathy in general is geared towards correcting the underlying disease process. There are some instances when neuropathy is caused by autoimmune disorders, therefore, to treat this underlying cause, immunosuppressive therapies may be needed. If diabetes is the cause of the autonomic neuropathy, then treatment is focused on controlling blood sugar levels. It may be through following a strict diabetic diet, implementing an exercise regimen and taking in antidiabetes medications.

Hypertension is also an underlying cause that needs to be managed. With the help of antihypertensives and proper food intake, the elevation in blood pressure can be corrected, reducing the chance of a person from acquiring this kind of neuropathy. The management of autonomic neuropathy is not only limited in controlling the underlying condition but relieving symptoms as well.

Mortality Rate
The mortality rate of autonomic neuropathy accounts to about 27% of the population in the United States alone. When detected early, the prognosis of this kind of neuropathy is good. However, there are cases where it is difficult to diagnose because it remains asymptomatic for years. As a result, life threatening complications may arise and it may be too late to treat. According to studies, most victims of autonomic neuropathy usually die of heart and electrolyte imbalances. The American Diabetes Association stressed the importance of early detection most especially if you are suffering from diabetes.

Autonomic Nervous System



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