Relationships Between Cardiovascular Autonomic Profile and Work Ability in Patients With Pure Autonomic Failure

Front Hum Neurosci. 2021 Dec 23:15:761501. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.761501. eCollection 2021.


Pure autonomic failure (PAF) is a rare disorder belonging to the group of synucleinopathies, characterized by autonomic nervous system degeneration. Severe orthostatic intolerance with recurrent syncope while standing are the two most disabling manifestations. Symptoms may start at middle age, thus affecting people at their working age. The aims of this study were to evaluate the autonomic and work ability impairment of a group of PAF patients and assess the relationships between cardiovascular autonomic control and work ability in these patients. Eleven PAF patients (age 57.3 ± 6.7 years), engaged in work activity, participated in the study. They completed the Composite Autonomic Symptom Score (COMPASS-31, range 0 no symptom-100 maximum symptom intensity) and Work Ability questionnaires (Work Ability Index, WAI, range 7-49; higher values indicate better work ability and lower values indicating unsatisfactory or jeopardized work ability). Electrocardiogram, blood pressure and respiratory activity were continuously recorded for 10 min while supine and during 75° head-up tilt (HUT). Autoregressive spectral analysis of cardiac cycle length approximated as the time distance between two consecutive R-wave peaks (RR) and systolic arterial pressure (SAP) variabilities provided the power in the high frequency (HF, 0.15-0.40 Hz) and low frequency (LF, 0.04-0.15 Hz) bands of RR and SAP variabilities. Cardiac sympatho-vagal interaction was assessed by LF to HF ratio (LF/HF), while the LF power of SAP (LFSAP) quantified the vascular sympathetic modulation. Changes in cardiovascular autonomic indexes induced by HUT were calculated as the delta (Δ) between HUT and supine resting positions. Spearman correlation analysis was applied. PAF patients were characterized by a moderate autonomic dysfunction (COMPASS-31 total score 47.08 ± 20.2) and by a reduction of work ability (WAI 26.88 ± 10.72). Direct significant correlations were found between WAI and ΔLFRR (r = 0.66, p = 0.03) and ΔLF/HFRR (r = 0.70, p = 0.02). Results indicate that patients who were better able to modulate heart rate, as revealed by a greater cardiac sympathetic increase and/or vagal withdrawal during the orthostatic stimulus, were those who reported higher values of WAI. This finding could be relevant to propose new strategies in the occupational environment to prevent early retirement or to extend the working life of these patients.

Keywords: autonomic nervous system; blood pressure; heart rate variability; orthostatic hypotension; power spectrum analysis; pure autonomic failure (PAF); work ability.