Autonomic Nervous System Dysfunction

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is the portion of the nervous system that controls the function of organ systems for the body. Many think of it as the "automatic" nervous system because the mind does not rule its performance; it works below the conscious level. For instance, it regulates body temperature, blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, bowel and bladder tone, and myriad other functions necessary to maintain life. The peripheral autonomic system is divided into two branches: sympathetic and parasympathetic.

The goal of these two branches is to maintain equilibrium in many instances that range from life-threatening stress to deep sleep. Reactivity in the ANS is sometimes referred to as "fight or flight." The actions of the two branches of the ANS are determined by neurotransmitters (body chemicals originating in nerve cells and used to relay signals). Important neurotransmitters include adrenaline (also called norepinephrine, a stress hormone), which is the predominant

sympathetic neurotransmitter, and acetylcholine (another kind of stress hormone abbreviated as ACh), the main hormone responsible for regulating parasympa-thetic activity. Activity and reactions in the ANS can be measured by analyzing heart rate variability, which is often abnormal in people with FM. Dysautonomia is the medical term for ANS dysfunction, and there are medical researchers who believe it explains many, if not all, FM symptoms. This is because the hypothalamic-

pituitary-adrenal axis, and specifically growth hormone, works closely with the ANS.

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