The physical examination as a window into autonomic disorders

William P. Cheshire, David S. Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Signs of autonomic dysfunction, although at times seemingly mysterious, can contribute to diagnostic clarification and clinical investigation. Even when sophisticated autonomic testing equipment is not readily available, the experienced clinician, through educated observation and inductive reasoning—in conjunction with an intelligently obtained autonomic medical history—can discern much by a careful physical examination. Elements of the autonomic examination include variations in the pulse, postural measurements of blood pressure and heart rate, pupillary light reactions, skin coloration and temperature, patterns of sweating, and other organ-specific physical findings relevant to the individual patient’s presentation. Especially important is the often neglected practice of measuring the blood pressure standing up, for orthostatic hypotension cannot be diagnosed by symptoms alone and is a common source of potential morbidity. The examination should be carried out in the context of understanding the syndromic nature of abnormalities of components of the autonomic nervous system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-33
Number of pages11
JournalClinical Autonomic Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018


  • Autonomic nervous system diseases
  • Autonomic pathways
  • Blood pressure determination
  • Physical examination
  • Vital signs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Clinical Neurology


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