Diabetes and cardiac autonomic neuropathy: Clinical manifestations, cardiovascular consequences, diagnosis and treatment

World J Diabetes. 2015 Feb 15;6(1):80-91. doi: 10.4239/wjd.v6.i1.80.


Cardiac autonomic neuropathy (CAN) is a frequent chronic complication of diabetes mellitus with potentially life-threatening outcomes. CAN is caused by the impairment of the autonomic nerve fibers regulating heart rate, cardiac output, myocardial contractility, cardiac electrophysiology and blood vessel constriction and dilatation. It causes a wide range of cardiac disorders, including resting tachycardia, arrhythmias, intraoperative cardiovascular instability, asymptomatic myocardial ischemia and infarction and increased rate of mortality after myocardial infarction. Etiological factors associated with autonomic neuropathy include insufficient glycemic control, a longer period since the onset of diabetes, increased age, female sex and greater body mass index. The most commonly used methods for the diagnosis of CAN are based upon the assessment of heart rate variability (the physiological variation in the time interval between heartbeats), as it is one of the first findings in both clinically asymptomatic and symptomatic patients. Clinical symptoms associated with CAN generally occur late in the disease process and include early fatigue and exhaustion during exercise, orthostatic hypotension, dizziness, presyncope and syncope. Treatment is based on early diagnosis, life style changes, optimization of glycemic control and management of cardiovascular risk factors. Medical therapies, including aldose reductase inhibitors, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, prostoglandin analogs and alpha-lipoic acid, have been found to be effective in randomized controlled trials. The following article includes the epidemiology, clinical findings and cardiovascular consequences, diagnosis, and approaches to prevention and treatment of CAN.

Keywords: Autonomic neuropathy; Cardiac; Cardiovascular reflex tests; Diabetes mellitus; Heart rate variability.

Publication types

  • Review