If you’ve been diagnosed with autonomic neuropathy, you know you’re at risk for some serious medical issues. Autonomic neuropathy (i.e., nerve damage to the autonomic nervous system) can affect every system in the body, especially:
• Cardiovascular – your heart, blood pressure and circulation
• Gastrointestinal – your digestion, ability to ability to empty your bowels
• Genitourinary – erectile dysfunction and loss of bladder control
• While you’re dealing with some or all of these issues, exercise may not be on your radar.
But it should be.
Exercise can help control the symptoms of your underlying illness (whatever caused your autonomic neuropathy) and by doing that, you can help lessen the symptoms of your autonomic neuropathy.
But a word of caution is in order here.
The very nature of your autonomic neuropathy can affect the systems that are most sensitive to the effects of exercise. Any exercise program you begin should be designed and monitored by a medical professional well versed in the effects of autonomic neuropathy, like your NeuropathyDR® clinician.
Use Vs. Disuse
When you’re thinking about starting an exercise program and you’re thinking about how dangerous it can be, you also need to consider the effects of not starting an exercise program. The effects of not exercising are called “disuse syndrome”. We’ll discuss more about “disuse syndrome” in our next post.
What You Need To Think About Before You Start Exercising
Think about what happens to your body when you exercise. Your heart rate increases, your breathing becomes labored, you sweat.
Every single one of those results is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Autonomic neuropathy can seriously impact how your body responds to the stimulus of exercise. And your body may not react as it should.
• Heart rate – If your autonomic neuropathy affects your cardiovascular system, you need to make sure that your exercise program is designed and monitored by your NeuropathyDR® clinician. Your autonomic neuropathy can lead to abnormal heart rate, inability to properly regulate blood pressure and redistribution of blood flow. Your cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy may cause you to have a higher resting rate and lower maximal heart rates during exercise.
• Blood pressure – Blood pressure response with posture change and during exercise is abnormal in patients with cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy. Postural hypotension, defined as a drop in blood pressure may be seen. This can mean that the blood pressure doesn’t react normally during exercise. Symptoms are similar to hypoglycemia and may be mistaken for a drop in blood glucose even though it’s actually a drop in blood pressure. Patients should be alerted to the potential confusion in these symptoms and instructed to check blood glucose before treating for hypoglycemia.
• Sweating and Disruption of Blood Flow – Autonomic neuropathy may reduce or even eliminate your ability to sweat. The loss of sweating, especially in your feet, can cause dry, brittle skin on the feet and you can develop skin ulcers. It can also make it more difficult for your body to respond to cold and heat. You need to make sure that you’re taking proper care of your feet before and during any exercise program. Make sure your shoes fit properly and examine your feet regularly to make sure you don’t have any sores, cracks or ulcers.
Autonomic neuropathy can have a serious effect on the very systems in the body that are directly affected by exercise. Make sure you talk to your local NeuropathyDR® clinician before you start an exercise program and let them monitor your progress.
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