Reactive hyperemia: a review of methods, mechanisms, and considerations

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2020 Mar 1;318(3):R605-R618. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00339.2019. Epub 2020 Feb 5.


Reactive hyperemia is a well-established technique for noninvasive assessment of peripheral microvascular function and a predictor of all-cause and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. In its simplest form, reactive hyperemia represents the magnitude of limb reperfusion following a brief period of ischemia induced by arterial occlusion. Over the past two decades, investigators have employed a variety of methods, including brachial artery velocity by Doppler ultrasound, tissue reperfusion by near-infrared spectroscopy, limb distension by venous occlusion plethysmography, and peripheral artery tonometry, to measure reactive hyperemia. Regardless of the technique used to measure reactive hyperemia, blunted reactive hyperemia is believed to reflect impaired microvascular function. With the advent of several technological advancements, together with an increased interest in the microcirculation, reactive hyperemia is becoming more common as a research tool and is widely used across multiple disciplines. With this in mind, we sought to review the various methodologies commonly used to assess reactive hyperemia and current mechanistic pathways believed to contribute to reactive hyperemia and reflect on several methodological considerations.

Keywords: ischemia; microvascular function; reactive hyperemia; reperfusion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Brachial Artery / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Hyperemia / physiopathology*
  • Ischemia / physiopathology*
  • Microcirculation / physiology*
  • Vasodilation / physiology*