Pathophysiology of orthostatic hypotension after bed rest: paradoxical sympathetic withdrawal

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2003 Sep;285(3):H1158-67. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00965.2002. Epub 2003 Apr 24.


Although orthostatic hypotension is a common clinical syndrome after spaceflight and its ground-based simulation model, 6 degrees head-down bed rest (HDBR), the pathophysiology remains unclear. The authors' hypothesis that a decrease in sympathetic nerve activity is the major pathophysiology underlying orthostatic hypotension after HDBR was tested in a study involving 14-day HDBR in 22 healthy subjects who showed no orthostatic hypotension during 15-min 60 degrees head-up tilt test (HUT) at baseline. After HDBR, 10 of 22 subjects demonstrated orthostatic hypotension during 60 degrees HUT. In subjects with orthostatic hypotension, total activity of muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) increased less during the first minute of 60 degrees HUT after HDBR (314% of resting supine activity) than before HDBR (523% of resting supine activity, P < 0.05) despite HDBR-induced reduction in plasma volume (13% of plasma volume before HDBR). The postural increase in total MSNA continued during several more minutes of 60 degrees HUT while arterial pressure was maintained. Thereafter, however, total MSNA was paradoxically suppressed by 104% of the resting supine level at the last minute of HUT (P < 0.05 vs. earlier 60 degrees HUT periods). The suppression of total MSNA was accompanied by a 22 +/- 4-mmHg decrease in mean blood pressure (systolic blood pressure <80 mmHg). In contrast, orthostatic activation of total MSNA was preserved throughout 60 degrees HUT in subjects who did not develop orthostatic hypotension. These data support the hypothesis that a decrease in sympathetic nerve activity is the major pathophysiological factor underlying orthostatic hypotension after HDBR. It appears that the diminished sympathetic activity, in combination with other factors associated with HDBR (e.g., hypovolemia), may predispose some individuals to postural hypotension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Baroreflex / physiology
  • Bed Rest / adverse effects*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / physiopathology*
  • Hypovolemia / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation
  • Supine Position
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*