Cerebrovascular mechanisms in neurocardiogenic syncope with and without postural tachycardia syndrome

R R Diehl, D Linden, A Chalkiadaki, A Diehl
Journal of the Autonomic Nervous System 1999 May 28, 76 (2-3): 159-66

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Recent transcranial Doppler studies in patients with neurocardiogenic syncopes (NCS) have demonstrated that the cerebrovascular response to sudden systemic hypotension is vasoconstriction instead of compensatory vasodilation (autoregulation). We tried to characterize the conditions leading to this unexpected response in NCS patients further by continuously monitoring autoregulation and autonomic parameters during a standardized tilt-table test (TTT).

METHODS: Sixteen patients below the age of 50 years with a history of at least three syncopes of undetermined cause and tilt-table verified NCS and 20 normal controls were studied. Arterial blood pressure (ABP) and heart rate (HR) were monitored by Finapres and cerebral blood flow velocity (CBFV) of the left middle cerebral artery by transcranial Doppler. Baroreflex sensitivity and autoregulation parameters were measured continuously, using cross-spectral analysis of Mayer waves (3-9 cycles per minute oscillations) in ABP, HR and CBFV, respectively. Pulsatility indices (PI) of CBFV and ABP were determined continuously. Measurements were taken during 5 min in supine and during 5 min in tilted position. In patients, tilting was continued for a maximum of 45 min until the onset of syncope or presyncope.

RESULTS: According to the maximum increase in heart rate (deltaHR) during the first 5 min of standing, heart rate responses were classified as postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS) (deltaHR > 35/min) or as normal. Only one out of 20 control subjects showed a POTS (5%) in contrast to seven patients (44%). Patients with a POTS had significantly lower PI values in ABP and higher ratios between the PI of CBFV and the PI of ABP both in supine and in tilted positions. Baroreflex sensitivity during standing decreased significantly in POTS patients when compared to controls. Although autoregulation remained intact during standing, mean CBFV decreased significantly and continuously. The nine patients without a POTS showed almost the same cardiovascular and cerebrovascular responses as the control subjects. All 16 patients showed similar circulatory responses during syncope (sudden hypotension, relative or absolute bradycardia, reduced CBFV and increased PI in CBFV).

CONCLUSIONS: The development of a POTS during tilting indicates a high risk for fainting. The characteristic hemodynamic features in the initial phase of standing in these patients can be interpreted in terms of central hypovolemia (low PI of ABP) with sufficient ABP regulation and increased cerebrovascular resistance (defined as the ratio between PI of CBFV and ABP). Cerebral autoregulation seems not to be affected in patients suffering from NCS.

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