JOURNAL ARTICLE

False positive responses to head-up tilt testing in elderly patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation

Mário Martins Oliveira, Joana Feliciano, Ana Teresa Timóteo, Nogueira da Silva, Eduardo Antunes, Sofia Silva, Sandra Alves, Luís Silva-Carvalho, Rui Ferreira
Portuguese Journal of Cardiology: An Official Journal of the Portuguese Society of Cardiology 2008, 27 (11): 1383-94
19227806

UNLABELLED: The autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays a role as a modulator in the pathogenesis of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF). The clinical pattern of vagally mediated PAF has been observed mainly in young patients. Neurocardiogenic responses during orthostatic stress are related to autonomic reflexes in which the vagal influence predominates.

AIM: To evaluate the susceptibility of elderly patients with PAF to activation of vasovagal syncope mechanisms.

METHODS: We performed passive head-up tilt testing (HUT) in 34 patients (62% women, aged 72 +/- 7 years), with > or = 1 year of clinical history of PAF--19 without structural heart disease, 11 with hypertensive heart disease and 4 with coronary artery disease (who had no previous myocardial infarction, had undergone myocardial revascularization, and had no documented ischemia) (PAF group), and compared the results with those obtained in a group of 34 age-matched patients (53% women, aged 74 +/- 6 years), who underwent HUT due to recurrent syncope (Sc group). In this group, 21 had no documented heart disease and none had a clinical history of AF. There was no diabetes, congestive heart failure or syncope in the PAF group. After a supine resting period, the subjects were tilted at 70 degrees for 20 minutes while in sinus rhythm. No provocative agents were used to complement the HUT. ECG and blood pressure were continuously monitored (Task Force Monitor, CNSystems). The test was considered positive when syncope or presyncope occurred with bradycardia and/or arterial hypotension. Abnormal responses were classified as cardioinhibitory, vasodepressor or mixed.

RESULTS: HUT was positive in seven patients of the PAF group--vasodepressor response in five and mixed in two (20.5% of the total; 26.3% of those without heart disease)--and in eight patients (vasodepressor in six and mixed in two) of the Sc group (p=NS). During HUT, three patients of the PAF group had short periods of self-limited PAF (in one, after vasodepressor syncope). There were no differences in gender distribution, age or heart disease. No cardioinhibitory responses or orthostatic hypotension were observed.

CONCLUSION: In elderly patients with PAF, a significant number of false positive results during passive HUT may be expected, suggesting increased vasovagal reactions despite aging. This suggests that ANS imbalances may be observed in this population.

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