Diagnosing Disruptions in the Autonomic Nervous System

UConn Health Hospital Building


Since the bodily functions it controls are automatic and involuntary, people don’t think much about their autonomic nervous system (ANS). But ANS dysfunction can indicate serious medical problems, and early detection is key to avoiding complications.

UConn Health is home to the only testing laboratory in the state dedicated to diagnosing disruptions in the body’s ANS.

ANS is the control center that regulates the body’s automatic functions, including stress response, heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and urinary functions. Interruptions in the system can occur if there is a disruption in communication between the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves.

Abnormal ANS reflexes can be a sign of medical conditions such as cardiovascular problems, diabetic neuropathy, and Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative diseases.

“A series of simple ANS tests can help a patient finally find potential answers and treatment options for lingering, undiagnosed symptoms,” says UConn Health neurologist Dr. Matthew Imperioli. “The Neurology Department’s ANS Lab at UConn Health is proud to be filling a patient-care gap to meet the needs of patients
across Connecticut.”

Testing at UConn Health’s ANS lab can be performed in less than an hour by Imperioli, who has advanced fellowship training in this growing neurology subspecialty. Since it opened in May 2016, the lab has been busy assessing patients referred by neurology and primary care physicians searching for answers for their patient’s symptoms, such as recurrent fainting or dizziness.

The panel of four tests hunts for any abnormal ANS reflexes. Quantitative sudomotor axon reflex testing (QSART) uses specialized electrode technology on the arm and leg to measure sweat capabilities. Simultaneous heart rate and blood pressure technology captures any variability during deep breaths and forceful exhales.

Also, an automated tilt table with EKG and specialized heartbeat-to-heartbeat blood pressure monitoring repeatedly checks for any changes as a patient rotates from a lying-down position to nearly standing.

“Early detection of an ANS disorder is critical so we can prevent patient falls or injury, avoid health complications, prescribe the correct medications, and improve a patient’s quality of life sooner rather than later,” Imperioli says.


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