Assessing cardiac baroreflex function with carotid neck collar technique in heart failure

      Reduced parasympathetic modulation of heart rate is an independent predictor of mortality in heart failure. It is not known whether enhancing parasympathetic outflow to the heart impacts survival in these patients. Our aim was to evaluate whether the neck collar technique, a non-invasive method of stimulating the carotid baroreceptors, was a reliable and reproducible means to evaluate baroreflex control of heart rate in patients with heart failure. Twenty-five patients (20 males, mean age 54 ± 10-years) with symptomatic heart failure (NYHA class II-III) were studied on two separate days, one week apart. All were free of cholesterol plaques in the carotid arteries. Blood pressure and RR intervals were measured continuously in the seated position. Graded pressure (-70 to +70 mmHg) was administered to the neck during a held expiration using a custom-designed collar. Maximum change in RR intervals was determined during the onset of neck pressure. Stimulus response curves were plotted for changes in RR intervals against estimated-carotid sinus pressure. The technique was well tolerated and there were no adverse events. The maximal differential, used to estimate baroreflex gain, was tightly correlated between visits 1 and 2 (R2 = 0.8063, p < 0.0001). The corresponding “set point” of the reflex was also significantly correlated between visits (R2 = 0.3324 p = 0.049). To our knowledge, this is the first time the neck collar technique has been validated in a medically fragile population. The technique is safe and reproducible and maybe useful to help understand whether strategies that enhance parasympathetic activity change outcomes in heart failure.
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