Although postprandial hypotension is a common cause of falls and syncope in elderly persons and in patients with autonomic insufficiency, the pathophysiology of this disorder remains unknown.
We examined the hemodynamic, splanchnic blood pool, plasma norepinephrine (NE), and heart rate (HR) power spectra responses to a standardized 400-kcal mixed meal in 11 healthy young (age, 26 +/- 5 years) and nine healthy elderly (age, 80 +/- 5 years) subjects and 10 dysautonomic patients with symptomatic postprandial hypotension (age, 65 +/- 16 years). Cardiac and splanchnic blood pools were determined noninvasively by radionuclide scans, and forearm vascular resistance was determined using venous occlusion plethysmography. In healthy young and old subjects, splanchnic blood volume increased, but supine blood pressure remained unchanged after the meal. In both groups, HR increased and systemic vascular resistance remained stable. Forearm vascular resistance and cardiac index increased after the meal in elderly subjects, whereas these responses were highly variable and of smaller magnitude in the young. Young subjects demonstrated postprandial increases in low-frequency HR spectral power, representing cardiac sympatho-excitation, but plasma NE remained unchanged. In elderly subjects, plasma NE increased after the meal but without changes in the HR power spectrum. Patients with dysautonomia had a large postprandial decline in blood pressure associated with no change in forearm vascular resistance, a fall in systemic vascular resistance, and reduction in left ventricular end diastolic volume index. HR increased in these patients but without changes in plasma NE or the HR power spectrum.
1) In healthy elderly subjects, the maintenance of blood pressure homeostasis after food ingestion is associated with an increase in HR, forearm vascular resistance, cardiac index, and plasma NE. In both young and old, systemic vascular resistance is maintained. 2) Dysautonomic patients with postprandial hypotension fail to maintain systemic vascular resistance after a meal. This impairment in vascular response to meal ingestion may underlie the development of postprandial hypotension. 3) The measurement of mean HR or plasma NE does not adequately characterize autonomic cardiac control. Power spectral analysis suggests an impairment in the postprandial autonomic modulation of HR in healthy elderly and dysautonomic subjects, possibly predisposing to hypotension when vascular compensation is inadequate.