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Center for Excessive Sweating
5225 Sheridan Drive
Williamsville, NY 14221
(716) 839-3638

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The Autonomic Nervous System - A Preview to the Nervous System that is Responsible for Hyperhidrosis

By: Dr. Cristina Lampuri

July 2, 2005

The human nervous system is made up of a central system (brain and spinal cord) and a peripheral system (nerves which travel to receptors all over the body). The peripheral nervous system is divided into the somatic nervous system (SNS) and the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The nerves of the SNS transmit the sensations of touch, pain, and temperature, as well as control voluntary movements of muscles. The ANS is an involuntary and reflexive system working to control blood vessels, the heart, and all organs in the chest, abdomen, and pelvis, without our conscious control.

The ANS is made up of two important divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These two systems have opposing actions to help maintain normal internal function.

The sympathetic nervous system is our "fight or flight" system. This system takes over when you are in a stressful situation, so you can "fight" your enemy or take "flight" to escape the situation. For instance, when you give a speech in front of a packed auditorium and your mouth gets dry, palms get sweaty, and your heart starts racing, that is your sympathetic nervous system at work.

The sympathetic system consists of two large nerve trunks that run along both sides of the spinal cord. The sympathetic trunks receive signals from the spinal cord and in turn send those signals out to the organs, glands, and blood vessels. This system acts to divert the body’s energy away from normal functions such as digestion, to provide the body with energy to deal with the stressful situation.

The sympathetic system causes dilation of the pupils, increased sweating, decreased saliva, dilation of the lung airways, decreased digestion of food in the stomach and intestine, and decreased urination or bowel movements by acting on the various organs. It also causes the blood vessels to constrict, in order to bring more blood back to the heart, causing blood pressure to rise.

The parasympathetic nervous system is our "rest and digest" system. It acts to maintain normal function of the internal organs. The parasympathetic system tries to restore and conserve the body’s energy. This system is responsible for maintaining a normal heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature of 98.6 F. After you give a speech, for example, the parasympathetic system helps your body to relax: palms become less sweaty, mouth moistens up, heart rate and breathing rate slow down.

The parasympathetic nerves receive signals directly from the spinal cord and nerves in the brain, without relaying them to a nerve trunk like the sympathetic system. These signals are directly transmitted to the internal organs.

The parasympathetic system is responsible for pupil constriction, decreasing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, constricting airways in the lungs, increasing peristalsis (digestion) of food in stomach and intestine, and increasing bladder emptying.

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For more information about hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) , as well as surgical and non-surgical hyperhidrosis treatment options, contact Dr. Karamanoukian at The Center for Excessive Sweating, a National Center of Excellence for Hyperhidrosis Treatment by email or by phone at (716) 839-3638.



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