What is the autonomic nervous system

Structure and function of the autonomic nervous system

Author: Maria Yiallouros, created on: 10/17/2011, last changed: 7/31/2019

The nervous system represents a superordinate body system. It consists of various organs through which the organism communicates with the environment and at the same time controls the mechanisms that take place inside the body. The numerous body nerves form the so-called peripheral nervous system [peripheral nervous system]; The brain and spinal cord are called the central nervous system or central nervous system (CNS).

The part of the nervous system that regulates all organic functions that cannot be influenced with the will is referred to as the autonomous or vegetative nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system watches over all vital basic functions of the body. It is active day and night and controls all involuntary, automatic functions such as heartbeat, digestion and breathing, the level of blood pressure or the activity of the bladder. The sweat secretion or the acceleration of the pulse during physical exertion are also part of the body processes that are controlled by the autonomic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system consists of two areas, the sympathetic nervous system (also called the sympatheticus) and the parasympathetic nervous system (parasympatheticus), which act in opposite ways on the organs:

  • The sympathetic nervous system stimulates energy consumption during increased activity or in stressful situations: It accelerates the heartbeat and breathing, for example, and increases blood pressure.
  • The parasympathetic nervous system on the other hand, is more likely to store and build up energy during a rest or recovery phase: for example, it slows down the heart rate and stimulates the glands and muscles in the digestive tract.

Autonomous nervous system

with its opponents sympathetic and parasympathetic
(© Henrie - Fotolia.com)

More on the vegetative nervous system

can be found in our text on the structure and function of the central nervous system, which also contains content on the autonomic nervous system. Look here