Neurocardiogenic syncope is the most common cause of acute loss of consciousness in adults. The present study attempted to identify neuroendocrine and hemodynamic changes before syncope that could therefore play a pathophysiologic role. Twenty-five patients referred for chronic orthostatic intolerance had plasma catecholamines measured serially; 21 patients during tilt-table testing (evoking syncope in 13) and 4 others with spontaneous syncope while supine. Forearm blood flow was measured by impedance plethysmography. All 12 patients with blood sampled before tilt-induced syncope had progressive, marked increases in plasma epinephrine levels (mean 11 times baseline, p <0.0001) before syncope. Simultaneously obtained norepinephrine levels increased to a much smaller extent than did epinephrine levels ("sympathoadrenal imbalance"). In the same patients, forearm vascular resistance decreased by 21% before syncope. Proportionate changes in forearm vascular resistance before syncope correlated negatively with those in the epinephrine:norepinephrine ratio (r = -0.75, p = 0.005). Patients without syncope had forearm vasoconstriction and no sympathoadrenal imbalance during tilt. Patients with syncope while supine also had sympathoadrenal imbalance before loss of consciousness. Sympathoadrenal imbalance precedes tilt-evoked and spontaneous neurocardiogenic syncope and correlates with concurrent skeletal muscle vasodilation. Sympathoadrenal imbalance may contribute to hemodynamic derangements precipitating neurocardiogenic syncope.