What Is The Function Of The Sympathetic Nervous System – The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is the part of the nervous system responsible for controlling involuntary bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and pupillary response.

It consists of two main divisions: the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems, which often work in opposition to maintain the body’s internal balance or homeostasis.

What Is The Function Of The Sympathetic Nervous System

What Is The Function Of The Sympathetic Nervous System

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is part of the peripheral nervous system and controls vital functions such as heartbeat, breathing, and digestion.

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It is also involved in the acute stress response, where it works with the endocrine system to prepare the body for fight or flight. It can be further divided into sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions.

The ANS relays information from internal body organs such as the liver and lungs. It operates automatically and is generally considered outside the scope of voluntary control.

Therefore, the ANS differs from the somatic nervous system (another branch of the peripheral nervous system) because this system is involved in controlling voluntary body movements. Although most functions of the ANS are automatic, they can work in conjunction with the somatic nervous system.

The ANS is important for regulating the body and is essential for maintaining homeostasis. It means balancing the body’s conditions and functions necessary for survival.

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Examples of functions controlled by the ANS include salivation, sweating, changing pupil size, regulating heart rate, crying, and secreting hormones.

More recently, the ANS is believed to be associated with emotions. Activation of the ANS has been found when people respond to both positive and negative emotions (Shiota et al., 2011). Below is a list of some of the functions of the ANS:

The hypothalamus, located above the brainstem, receives autonomic control input from the limbic system (a group of structures deep in the brain associated with functions such as memory, emotion, and fear). The hypothalamus uses this input to control much of the activity of the ANS.

What Is The Function Of The Sympathetic Nervous System

ANS has three branches; Sympathetic nervous system, parasympathetic nervous system and enteric nervous system.

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Both systems have complementary functions, working together to maintain the homeostasis of the body. Nerves in the sympathetic nervous system help prepare the body and expend energy for something to happen in the environment.

Nerves in the parasympathetic nervous system work by controlling the functions of the body while it is mostly at rest, controlling mostly ‘silent’ activities.

The sympathetic nervous system is involved in responses that help us deal with emergencies. It slows down less important bodily processes such as digestion.

For example, if the room temperature is hot, the sympathetic system encourages the body to sweat in response to this change.

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For example, walking home alone on a dark street is scary for many people. While running, your pupils may dilate, your heart rate may increase, and you may sweat.

This response to a stressful situation is caused by the release of large amounts of the neurotransmitter epinephrine from the adrenal gland. Once this stimulating neurotransmitter is released, it triggers the body’s automatic responses.

The purpose of stimulating these physiological responses is to prepare the individual to escape or fight in dangerous situations. Although the sympathetic nervous system is used evolutionarily in life-threatening situations, modern-day life and mental health can also trigger this response.

What Is The Function Of The Sympathetic Nervous System

Work-related stress, financial worries, and relationship problems are examples of when the sympathetic nervous system can produce this stress response.

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Similarly, people with anxiety disorders and panic attacks experience high levels of epinephrine, resulting in the same autonomic responses they experience in life-threatening situations.

The parasympathetic nervous system relaxes the individual after the emergency has passed (eg, decreases heart rate and lowers blood pressure) and preserves the body’s natural function by reducing/maintaining activity.

The parasympathetic nervous system is concerned with returning the body to resting state functions such as regulating heart rate, relaxing muscles, and controlling the bladder. This makes the parasympathetic nervous system important in supporting homeostasis.

The parasympathetic nervous system is also activated after a threatening situation is over. For example, when walking home alone at night, after returning home the body relaxes and the threatening situation is over.

Pdf) Sympathetic Nervous System

Pupils contract, heart rate returns to resting rhythm, and sweating decreases or stops. So the parasympathetic system is important for our recovery after a stressful situation.

Without this system, the body is constantly on alert, draining all energy and leading to chronic stress.

The enteric nervous system (ENS) is a branch of the ANS that functions independently of the central nervous system. This system consists of neurons confined to the gastrointestinal tract (also known as the gut).

What Is The Function Of The Sympathetic Nervous System

Neurons comprising the enteric system are responsible for controlling the system’s motor functions as well as secreting enzymes in the gastrointestinal tract. The types of neurons in the enteric system are sensory, motor and interneurons.

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Neurons in this system communicate through several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine. Circuits of neurons in this system can regulate local blood flow and modulate immune functions.

Autonomic Dysfunction Deautonomic dysfunction, or dysautonomia, is a condition in which the autonomic nervous system (ANS) does not function properly.

In developed countries, the most common cause of ANS complications is diabetes (Bishop, 2010). However, other causes may be hereditary factors, aging, Parkinson’s disease, cancer or chronic fatigue syndrome. Other causes can include head trauma, damage to the neck nerves, alcohol and drug abuse, or infections.

If someone believes they may have a problem with their ANS, they may be exhibiting one or more of the following symptoms:

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Autonomic neuropathy refers to damage to the autonomic nerves. These are disorders that affect the sympathetic nerves, parasympathetic nerves, or both.

Symptoms of autonomic neuropathy include a constant heart rate, constipation, abnormal sweating, decreased pupil size, and absent or delayed light reflexes (Bankenahalli & Crovidi, 2016).

Suppose experiencing the above symptoms and a person wants to know if it is related to their ANS dysfunction.

What Is The Function Of The Sympathetic Nervous System

In that case, several tests are conducted depending on the symptom experienced. For example, if experiencing abnormal heart rhythms, a doctor may use an electrocardiogram to measure electrical activity in the heart.

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Blood pressure monitors can also test if blood pressure is abnormally high or low. Sweat tests can assess whether the sweat glands are working properly.

It involves using electrodes to stimulate the glands and measuring the volumes of sweat produced when given the stimulus. Pupillary light reflex tests can also be used to determine how sensitive pupils are to changes in light and whether they respond appropriately.

These types of physical tests are necessary if someone believes they have a problem with their ANS. Generally, if there is a problem, it may take a lot of trial and error of several tests to diagnose the condition.

Treatability of a dysfunctional ANS, again, depends on the type of diagnosis given. For example, for dysfunction due to diabetes, controlling blood sugar becomes the primary treatment.

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In many cases, treating the underlying disease (if applicable) allows the damaged nerves within the ANS to repair and regenerate. Lifestyle changes may be recommended by a physician to treat ANS dysfunction.

This could be by exercising more often, modifying eating habits or diet, cutting back on caffeine or taking vitamin supplements. Pharmacological treatments have also been shown to be effective in helping to treat or manage ANS dysfunction.

This includes drugs used to lower blood pressure and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to help control pain (especially for fibromyalgia). Similarly, antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help with anxiety symptoms and help rebalance the ANS.

What Is The Function Of The Sympathetic Nervous System

The parasympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for returning the body to a relaxed and restorative state after an emergency or stress.

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It counteracts the effects of sympathetic dissociation that initiates the “fight or flight” response during an emergency. The parasympathetic system promotes “rest and digest” functions, restoring balance and conserving energy.

The enteric division of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) functions independently of stimulation by the central nervous system. It primarily handles the functions of the gastrointestinal tract, including digestion and motility, and can function autonomously but also communicates with the central nervous system.

The sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system prepares the body for action in stressful situations, often referred to as the “fight or flight” response. It increases the heart rate, dilates the airways, and redirects blood flow to the muscles, among other responses, preparing the body for immediate action.

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with 18 years’ experience working in further and higher education. He has published in peer-reviewed journals including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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Olivia Guy-Evans is an author and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in the healthcare and education sectors. The autonomic nervous system controls certain body processes such as blood pressure and breathing rate. This system works automatically (autonomously), without the conscious effort of a person.

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