Autonomic Reflex Dysfunction in Patients Presenting for Elective Surgery Is Associated with Hypotension after Anesthesia Induction

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Autonomic reflex dysfunction in patients with diabetes is associated with an increased incidence of hypotension after induction of anesthesia. Whether this finding can be extrapolated to patients with autonomic dysfunction from other causes (e.g., advanced age, hypertension, altered ventricular function) has not been established.


The authors investigated whether autonomic reflex dysfunction in a more generalized patient group (26 consecutively consenting day-surgery patients older than 39 yr) was similarly associated with the occurrence of hypotension after induction. Preoperatlve tests of autonomic function included: Valsalva maneuver, change in heart rate with forced breathing, change in heart rate and blood pressure with standing, and spectral analysis of heart rate variability. Anesthesia was induced with 3–5 mg/kg thiopental, 2 μg/kg fentanyl, and 60% N2O; 0.1 mg/kg vecuronium was used for paralysis; 0–1.5% isoflurane was added for maintenance of anesthesia after intubation. Noninvasive measurements of mean blood pressure were obtained every minute for 10 min after induction and then every 3 min until skin incision.


Twelve patients developed hypotension (mean blood pressure < 70 mmHg), and 14 patients did not. Measurements of autonomic reflex function were significantly more abnormal in the patients who developed hypotension (P < 0.006 for Valsalva measurements, heart rate variability parameters, and change in heart rate with forced breathing). Using critical test values for autonomic tests, the incidence of hypotension was 67–83% in patients with autonomic nervous system dysfunction versus 9–17% in other patients.


The results document that: (1) some degree of autonomic reflex dysfunction is not uncommon in patients older than 39 yr presenting for elective surgery, and (2) such dysfunction is associated with an increased incidence of hypotension when using the described induction technique.

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