As much as we want the letters DBHD to stand for “Daily Better Health, Dearie,” those very rare people, whose genetic makeup includes a particular mutation, will translate the acronym more correctly into dopamine beta-hydroxylase deficiency.
The gene in question is DBH, which produces the enzyme, dopamine beta(ß)-hydroxylase. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter—a brain chemical that communicates information to other parts of the body.
Some neurotransmitters only stimulate the brain (excitatory), and some calm and help create balance (inhibitory). Dopamine does both, and plays a role in:
- Pleasurable reward
- Behavior and cognition
- Inhibiting the production of prolactin
The enzyme, dopamine beta(ß)-hydroxylase, changes dopamine into norepinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that causes blood vessels to constrict, which can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.
When there’s not enough DBH (a.k.a deficiency), dopamine can’t be converted into norepinephrine, and that affects how your body’s able to adjust to changes in position (standing up from a sitting position, for example) or in temperature.
Here are 5 crazy symptoms of DBHD:
- Falling down after standing up—or after you’ve been standing for a long time (called orthostatic hypotension)
- Droopy eyelids (called ptosis) and frequent stuffy noses
- Fainting or extreme fatigue during exercise
- Males may have ejaculation problems in which the semen erupts backwards, into the bladder
- Women may experience more miscarriages or stillbirths than the general population
Treatment for DBH deficiency has evolved as the condition becomes better understood.
Researchers have discovered that, though people with DBH deficiency have practically no norepinephrine, epinephrine, or the by-products they produce, they also have an increased level of dopamine in their blood plasma, in the fluid around the brain and spine, and in their urine. Currently, medical researchers aim to reduce dopamine levels and increase norepinephrine levels. They have been pleased with the results they are seeing so far.
Check out the work of Vanderbilt University’s Autonomic Dysfunction Center (ADC) to learn more or become a volunteer!