The Extended Autonomic Nervous System: It’s All Connected

Introduction

For those of you who have read our previous blog post about dysautonomia, you will be familiar with what the autonomic nervous system is and its main components. Traditionally, the autonomic nervous system(ANS) is the aspect of our nervous system that is “autonomic.” It is responsible for controlling aspects of body function that we don’t have to think about everyday, such as heart rate, blood pressure, sleep/wake cycle, reproductive system, digestion, organ function, and more. The autonomic nervous system is broken down in the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric nervous system. Generally, we think of the sympathetic nervous system as the “fight or flight” system, parasympathetic is “rest and digest”, and the enteric nervous system lives in our gut and plays a major role in many bodily functions. 

In the past century, our understanding of the autonomic nervous system has expanded significantly. In this blog post we will spend time discussing aspects of the extended ANS and its importance in the treatment of disorders of the autonomic nervous system. 

The Neuro-Immuno-Endocrine System

While the nervous system, immune system, and endocrine systems are traditionally discussed as distinct and separate systems, the reality is there is constant cross talk and communication between all three. This means functionality of one can play a significant role in the functionality of another. When we are exposed to stressors, all three systems talk to help best maintain homeostasis or stability/equilibrium within the body. Each system communicates to each other via specific messengers. 

The Extended ANS

The extended autonomic nervous system (EAS) is a term used to describe the expansion of the ANS beyond the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric systems. The EAS consists of a multitude of subsets that link the autonomic system to the immune system and endocrine systems. The EAS can be further broken into the autonomic neuroendocrine system and the autonomic neuroimmune system.

Dysautonomias

The origin of dysautonomias (dysfunction of the ANS) come from a multitude of factors. We often see patients develop disorders of the autonomic nervous system secondary to head trauma, infections, autoimmune diseases, pregnancy, chemical toxicity, and more. As you can see, this list covers a wide array of origins that originate from the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. To treat these conditions, it is necessary to have a good understanding of all three systems and how they communicate to each other. 

A Holistic Approach to Dysautonomias 

When treating patients with dysautonomias, it is necessary to evaluate the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems to get to the root cause of dysfunction. Many patients present having dysfunction in more than one of these systems. Since there is constant cross talk between them, we feel it is important to optimize the function of all three, when necessary. At CFNC, our doctors always take a holistic, multisystem approach to treatment in order to achieve the best outcomes. 

If you are interested in speaking with one of our doctors about your symptoms please contact us via our website form. For more information on our Dysautonomia Program, click here. 

DISCLAIMER: This information is intended to be informational and informative solely based on the clinical experience of our doctors at CFNC. Our goal is to increase awareness of these conditions for treatments and research. This is not intended to be medical advice, if you are experiencing any of these symptoms or conditions please contact your healthcare provider.