Press Release

Small Changes in Big Network May Signal Autonomic Disorder

January 28, 2013

Because the system affects more than one organ, its care requires special knowledge of each of those organs—and a comprehensive physical exam process focused on reaction to stimuli, like the pupil's changes in different degrees of light. 

It's the reason your heart beats. It's the reason why your stomach digests food. It's the reason that you shiver if you're in a cold room and sweat if you're in a hot room.

-Neurologist Safwan Jaradeh, MD, director, Autonomic Disorders Program, Stanford Hospital & Clinics

Neurologist Safwan Jaradeh, MD, is the director of Stanford's autonomic disorders program. Board certified in clinical neurophysiology, electrodiagnostic medicine and neurology, Jaradeh is a rare specialist in autonomic disorders like that affecting patient Marc Laderriere. Worldwide, he estimates, there are only about 150 physicians with expertise in a biologic system most take for granted because its activities happen, when all goes well, without conscious thought.

  • The autonomic nervous system reaches throughout the body to act as a silent commander of a number of elemental body activities. It controls heart rate, respiration, digestion, salivation, perspiration, pupil dilation, urination and sexual function. It controls all those minute changes in blood pressure and heart rate that keep us from feeling dizzy when we stand up. It triggers us to sweat when the weather is hot and to shiver when the weather's cold, both done to maintain an appropriate internal body temperature.
  • Autonomic system disorders can affect one or more of the body's organs whose activity is regulated by the system. Symptoms might include dizziness, fainting, excessive fatigue, rapid heart rate, stomach pain, difficulty adjusting eyesight from light to dark, sweating abnormalities, constipation, and vomiting.
  • Changes in the autonomic system can be triggered by diabetes, Parkinson's disease, Lyme disease, infections, lupus and other autoimmune system diseases or independent of a specific infection or other disease.
  • Tests to diagnose autonomic system disorders will include a variety of methods to measure how the heart, blood pressure and other functions its controls react to changes in body position and temperature.

It is not uncommon for me to see patients who come with a large volume of medical records, that when sifted through, show a common thread.

-Neurologist Safwan Jaradeh, MD, director, Autonomic Disorders Program, Stanford Hospital & Clinics

I feel I am in good hands—there's no doubt. We'll get there.

-Marc Laderriere, patient, Stanford Hospital & Clinics