Complications of carotid sinus massage--a prospective series of older patients

Age Ageing. 2000 Sep;29(5):413-7. doi: 10.1093/ageing/29.5.413.


Background: there is a causal association between carotid sinus hypersensitivity, falls and syncope in elderly subjects. Neurological complications during carotid sinus massage have been reported in case studies and two retrospective series. Our aim was prospectively to ascertain the incidence of complications occurring after carotid sinus massage performed for diagnostic purposes in a consecutive series of patients.

Methods: 1000 consecutive subjects aged 50 years or over who attended the accident and emergency department with syncope or 'unexplained' falls had carotid sinus massage. Carotid sinus massage was performed for 5 s on the right and then left sides both supine and upright (70 degrees head-up tilt) with continuous heart rate and phasic blood pressure recording. Contraindications to carotid sinus massage were the presence of a carotid bruit, recent history of stroke or myocardial infarction or previous ventricular tachyarrhythmia.

Results: complications occurred in nine patients immediately after cessation of carotid sinus massage. Eight had transient neurological complications possibly attributable to carotid sinus massage: visual disturbance, 'pins and needles' and sensation of finger numbness in two cases each, leg weakness in one and sensation of 'being drunk' in one. All transient complications resolved within 24 h. In one patient mild weakness of the right hand persisted.

Conclusions: no subjects had cardiac complications and 1% had possible neurological symptoms, which resolved in most cases. Persistent neurological complications are uncommon, occurring in 1:1000 patients (0.1%) or 1: 3805 episodes of carotid sinus massage (0.03%).

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Carotid Sinus*
  • Contraindications
  • Female
  • Geriatric Assessment
  • Hemiplegia / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypesthesia / etiology*
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods
  • Massage / adverse effects*
  • Massage / methods
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Posture
  • Prospective Studies
  • Syncope / diagnosis*
  • Syncope / etiology
  • Tilt-Table Test
  • Time Factors