MEA Summary Review: The dysfunctional autonomic nervous system in ME/CFS | 24 January 2018


This review includes some self-help measures that might help relieve symptoms.

Two research studies recently reported similar findings relating to the autonomic nervous system in people with ME/CFS. Both related to sleep and build on existing evidence suggesting that a dysfunctional autonomic nervous system (also known as dysautonomia) is perhaps creating or exacerbating some of the symptoms that may be associated with ME/CFS.

In this ME Association summary review, we hope to explain:

  1. the autonomic nervous system and how it functions
  2. the latest research findings in relation to sleep, and,
  3. suggest some things you can do to help address these problems.

Read the full review online or as a download

Altered autonomic nervous system (ANS) functioning has been frequently reported in patients with ME/CFS (Johnson, 2017). Symptoms that are related to ANS dysfunction in ME/CFS include:

  • Dizziness, light-headedness and feeling faint on standing (postural hypotension)
  • Orthostatic intolerance (being unable to stand for long periods)
  • Palpitations
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Irritable bladder symptoms
  • Gastric and irritable bowel type symptoms – including nausea

A condition known as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) also occurs in a sub-group of people with ME/CFS.

Something called heart rate variability (HRV) can be used as a measure of autonomic function and this was used in the two studies published last month.

Although the studies were small, they concluded that there is an apparent dysfunction, or imbalance, in the ANS during sleep and when awake, with one study looking at the effects before and after an exercise and cognitive challenge.

Each study concluded that HRV in CFS is lower than controls during sleep, suggesting higher sympathetic nervous system activity and lower parasympathetic nervous system activity.


Read the full review online or as a download

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Image credit: Neural network, Brain cells, neurons: nobeastsofierce / 123RF Stock Photo.


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