A 41-year-old man with a remote history of neck and mediastinal radiation was seen with severe paroxysms of hypertension, headache, and cutaneous flushing after bilateral carotid bypass surgery. Investigation revealed marked parallel fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rate and elevation of plasma norepinephrine to 1164 pg/ml during a paroxysm. We systematically evaluated his arterial and cardiopulmonary baroreceptor reflex function by assessing changes in heart rate, arterial pressure, and efferent muscle sympathetic nerve activity, which was measured directly by the microneurographic technique. Elevating resting arterial pressure from 130/88 to 164/100 mm Hg with phenylephrine or lowering it to 88/56 mm Hg with nitroprusside produced no reflex changes in heart rate or efferent sympathetic nerve activity. In contrast, decreases in cardiac filling pressures with lower body negative pressure produced a marked increase in sympathetic nerve activity. These findings indicate complete loss of the afferent limb of the arterial baroreceptor reflex but preservation of the cardiopulmonary baroreceptor reflex. They suggest that both carotid and aortic baroreceptors were impaired by the previous radiation and surgery. Despite the loss of arterial baroreceptor function, the patient did not have sustained hypertension. The paroxysms of hypertension appear to be due to spontaneous fluctuations in central sympathetic drive not buffered by arterial baroreceptors in a manner similar to that seen in sinoaortic-denervated animals.
- Arterial baroreceptor reflex
- Sympathetic nerve activity