Background: Syncope triggered by swallowing is a well-known but uncommon condition that has been the focus of case reports but is otherwise largely unstudied. To better understand swallow syncope we examined heart rate (HR) and blood pressure (BP) changes during swallowing in clinically suspected swallow syncope patients and asymptomatic control subjects. Methods: The study population comprised four individuals with a history suggesting swallow syncope (three men, 53 ± 14.9 years) and 15 (nine men, 46 ± 17.1 years, P = NS vs patients) asymptomatic volunteer control subjects. Studies in all individuals comprised noninvasive beat-to-beat HR and BP measurement during swallowing 150 mL of cold liquid while standing. Additional tests in swallow syncope patients included: active standing, Valsalva maneuver, carotid sinus massage (CSM), and head-up tilt (HUT). Results: Swallowing resulted in a greater decrease of both HR (−22 ± 22.1 vs −3 ± 11.7 beats/minute [bpm]; P = 0.045) and BP (−22 ± 17.4 vs − 2 ± 11.8; P = 0.036) in swallow syncope patients than in controls. Further, in swallow syncope patients the time to lowest HR and BP differed (9 ± 5.5 vs 19 ± 7.2 seconds; P = 0.02), suggesting that both cardioinhibitory (CI) and vasodepressor (VD) mechanisms are present but operate independently. Other autonomic studies were normal in swallow syncope patients except for CSM pause more than 3 seconds in two patients. Conclusion: Swallow syncope is associated with transient and temporally independent CI and VD features, consistent with reflex syncope. Potentially, a swallowing test during autonomic evaluation may be useful to unmask relative magnitudes of CI and VD responses, thereby facilitating treatment strategy decisions.
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- head-up tilt