Background - The dynamic autonomic processes leading to vasovagal syncope are poorly understood. Methods and Results - We used complex demodulation to continuously assess changes in respiration, R-R interval, and arterial pressure (blood pressure) variability during 60 degree head-up tilt in 25 healthy subjects with tilt-induced vasovagal syncope and 25 age- matched nonsyncopal control subjects. Coherence and transfer function analyses were used to examine the relation between respiration and R-R interval variability before syncope. Baseline blood pressure, R-R, and ventilation were similar between syncope subjects and control subjects. Syncope subjects experienced an increase in tidal volume and decrease in BP beginning 3 minutes before impending syncope (systolic blood pressure <80 mm Hg) necessitated termination of tilt. Approximately 90 seconds before syncope there was a sudden prolongation of R-R interval and increase in amplitude of high and low frequency R-R interval variability, indicating an abrupt enhancement of vagal tone. The increase in respiratory amplitude between 180 and 90 seconds before syncope was not accompanied by changes in R-R interval or R-R variability, suggesting a dissociation between respiration and the respiratory sinus arrhythmia. The coherence analysis showed fewer syncope subjects with coherence between respiratory and R-R interval variabilities and lower transfer magnitudes in syncope subjects compared with control subjects. Nonsyncopal subjects had no change in respiratory, R-R interval, or blood pressure dynamics during matched time periods before the time of syncope. Conclusions - Vasovagal syncope is preceded by a period hyperpnea and cardiorespiratory decoupling followed by an abrupt increase in cardiovagal tone. Respiratory pumping without inspiratory cardiac slowing may partially counteract preload reduction until sudden bradycardia precipitates syncope.
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