Objectives: The purpose of this study was to assess vagal tone and cardiopulmonary baroreceptor activity in patients with tilt-induced neurally mediated syncope.
Background: The causes of individual susceptibility to orthostatic stress leading to recurrent neurally mediated syncope remain obscure. The trigger for sympathetic withdrawal and increased vagal activity is believed to be stimulation of ventricular mechanoreceptors.
Methods: Seventeen patients (mean age 50.6 years) with recurrent syncope and a positive response on a 45-min 60 degrees head-up tilt test were compared with a control group of 17 patients (mean age 47.5 years) with unexplained syncope and negative tilt test findings. Vagal activity was assessed by high pressure baroreceptor testing and by temporal and spectral analysis of heart rate variability during Holter ambulatory electrocardiographic monitoring. Cardiopulmonary baroreceptor sensitivity was assessed by measurement of forearm vascular responses to lower body negative pressure.
Results: Mean high pressure baroreceptor sensitivity was 16.4 +/- 12.2 ms/mm Hg in the group with a positive tilt test response compared with 15.1 +/- 13.0 ms/mm Hg in the control group (p = NS). There were no significant differences between the groups in any of the temporal or spectral measures of heart rate variability. The increase in forearm vascular resistance in response to lower body negative pressure was 11.5 +/- 14.2 U in patients with tilt-induced syncope and 3.5 +/- 3.2 U in the control group at -5 mm Hg, 16.8 +/- 18.6 U and 4.8 +/- 5.3 U, respectively, at -10 mm Hg and 26.4 +/- 24.3 U and 10.2 +/- 7.8 U, respectively, at -20 mm Hg (p < 0.001).
Conclusions: Patients with tilt-induced neurally mediated syncope have augmented cardiopulmonary baroreceptor responses to orthostatic stress. This finding sheds new light on the etiology of neurally mediated syncope.