Decreased baroreflex sensitivity in acute schizophrenia

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2007 Mar;102(3):1051-6. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00811.2006. Epub 2006 Nov 16.


Decreased vagal activity has been described in acute schizophrenia and might be associated with altered cardiovascular regulation and increased cardiac mortality. The aim of this study was to assess baroreflex sensitivity in the context of psychopathology. Twenty-one acute, psychotic, unmedicated patients with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia were investigated after admission to the hospital. Results were compared with 21 healthy volunteers matched with respect to age and sex. Cardiovascular parameters obtained included measures for heart rate variability, baroreflex sensitivity, as well as cardiac output, left ventricular work index, and total peripheral resistance. All parameters investigated were analyzed using linear and novel nonlinear techniques. Positive and negative symptoms were assessed to estimate the impact of psychopathology on autonomic parameters. Subjects with acute schizophrenia showed reduction of baroreflex sensitivity accompanied by tachycardia and greatly increased left ventricular work index. Nonlinear parameters of baroreflex sensitivity correlated with positive symptoms. For heart rate variability, mainly parameters indicating parasympathetic modulation were decreased. Vascular pathology could be excluded as a confounding factor. These results reflect a dysfunctional cardiovascular regulation in acute schizophrenic patients at rest. The changes are similar to adaptational regulatory processes following stressful mental or physical tasks in healthy subjects. This study suggests that hyperarousal in acute schizophrenia is accompanied by decreased efferent vagal activity, thus increasing the risk for cardiovascular mortality. Future studies are warranted to examine the role of the sympathetic system and possible autonomic differences in hyperarousal induced by anxiety and/or external stressful events.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Baroreflex / physiology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Cardiography, Impedance
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Schizophrenia, Paranoid / physiopathology*