Plasma norepinephrine responses to head-up tilt are misleading in autonomic failure.
The failure of plasma norepinephrine to rise during upright posture is accepted as a diagnostic sign of autonomic nervous failure in patients with postural hypotension. Our clinical experience has been that this test is misleading, with an increase in plasma norepinephrine commonly occurring. To test whether this might result from absent reflex postural venous constriction lowering cardiac output and plasma norepinephrine clearance, we measured norepinephrine plasma kinetics during recumbency and 30 degrees head-up tilting in six patients with pure autonomic failure and eight healthy subjects. Mean arterial pressure fell by 54 +/- 8 mm Hg with head-up tilt in the patients with pure autonomic failure. The plasma norepinephrine concentration (arterial sampling) increased 73 +/- 29 pg/ml (mean difference +/- SED, p less than 0.02), solely because of a 36% reduction in the clearance of norepinephrine from plasma (0.78 +/- 0.09 l/min, p less than 0.0001). In normal subjects, plasma norepinephrine concentration rose by 112 +/- 20 pg/ml (p less than 0.001), largely because of a 24% increase in norepinephrine spillover to plasma (190 +/- 20 ng/min, p less than 0.005). When the postural fall in blood pressure and cardiac output in the pure autonomic failure patients was prevented by the selective venoconstrictor dihydroergotamine (10 micrograms/kg i.v.), no fall in plasma clearance or rise in plasma concentration of norepinephrine occurred. Measurement of the change in plasma norepinephrine with postural stimulation in patients with orthostatic hypotension is not a reliable diagnostic test for autonomic failure because elevations can occur in the plasma concentration that are entirely attributable to reduced plasma norepinephrine clearance.
- Copyright © 1992 by American Heart Association