Autonomic control of the venous system in health and disease: effects of drugs

Pharmacol Ther. May-Jun 2001;90(2-3):179-230. doi: 10.1016/s0163-7258(01)00138-3.


The venous system contains approximately 70% of the blood volume. The sympathetic nervous system is by far the most important vasopressor system in the control of venous capacitance. The baroreflex system responds to acute hypotension by concurrently increasing sympathetic tone to resistance, as well as capacitance vessels, to increase blood pressure and venous return, respectively. Studies in experimental animals have shown that interference of sympathetic activity by an alpha1- or alpha2-adrenoceptor antagonist or a ganglionic blocker reduces mean circulatory filling pressure and venous resistance and increases unstressed volume. An alpha1- or alpha2-adrenoceptor agonist, on the other hand, increases mean circulatory filling pressure and venous resistance and reduces unstressed volume. In humans, drugs that interfere with sympathetic tone can cause the pooling of blood in limb as well as splanchnic veins; the reduction of cardiac output; and orthostatic intolerance. Other perturbations that can cause postural hypotension include autonomic failure, as in dysautonomia, diabetes mellitus, and vasovagal syncope; increased venous compliance, as in hemodialysis; and reduced blood volume, as with space flight and prolonged bed rest. Several alpha-adrenoceptor agonists are used to increase venous return in orthostatic intolerance; however, there is insufficient data to show that these drugs are more efficacious than placebo. Clearly, more basic science and clinical studies are needed to increase our knowledge and understanding of the venous system.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Autonomic Agents / pharmacology
  • Autonomic Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Blood Volume
  • Cardiovascular System / drug effects*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / physiopathology
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Methods
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / drug effects
  • Vascular Capacitance*
  • Vascular Resistance
  • Veins / innervation
  • Veins / physiology*


  • Autonomic Agents