Familial dysautonomia (FD) is a genetic disease characterized by primary autonomic dysfunction including parasympathetic hypersensitivity. Breath-holding spells (BHS) are believed to be caused by autonomic dysregulation mediated via the vagus nerve and increased in patients with a family history of BHS. Details and understanding of its pathophysiology are lacking. In this retrospective study of patients with FD, the incidence of BHS was higher at 53.3%, compared with previous studies in normal children. Laughter as a precipitating factor for BHS has not been previously reported in FD and occurred in 10% of patients in this study. Lower lung volumes, chronic lung disease, chronic CO2 retention, and inadequate autonomic compensation occur in those with FD leading to a higher incidence and severity of BHS when crying or laughing. Thus, FD may be a good model for understanding manifestations of the autonomic nervous system dysfunction and contribute to our knowledge of BHS mechanisms.
Keywords: breath-holding spells (BHS); crying; familial dysautonomia (FD); laughter; prolonged expiratory apnea.
© The Author(s) 2014.