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J Physiol. 2004 Mar 1;555(Pt 2):573-83. Epub 2004 Jan 14.

Effect of gastric distension on cardiovascular parameters: gastrovascular reflex is attenuated in the elderly.

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Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, University Medical Center Utrecht, PO Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Stretching the stomach wall in young healthy subjects causes an increase in muscle sympathetic nerve activity and in blood pressure, the gastrovascular reflex. We compared healthy elderly subjects with healthy young subjects to find out whether the gastrovascular reflex attenuates in normal ageing and we studied whether there was a difference in autonomic function or gastric compliance that could explain this possible attenuation. Muscle sympathetic nerve activity, finger blood pressure and heart rate were continuously recorded during stepwise isobaric gastric distension using a barostat in eight healthy young (6 men and 2 women, 27 +/- 3.2 years, mean +/-s.e.m.) and eight healthy elderly subjects (7 men and 1 woman, 76 +/- 1.5 years). Changes in cardiac output and total peripheral arterial resistance were calculated from the blood pressure signal. The baseline mean arterial pressure and muscle sympathetic nerve activity were higher in the elderly group (both P < 0.05) and muscle sympathetic nerve activity increase during the cold pressor test was lower in the elderly group (P = 0.005). During stepwise gastric distension, the elderly subjects showed an attenuated increase in muscle sympathetic nerve activity compared to the young subjects (P < 0.01). The older group tended to show a higher increase in mean arterial pressure (P = 0.08), heart rate (P = 0.06) and total peripheral arterial resistance (P = 0.09) The cardiac output rose slightly in both groups without significant difference between groups. The fundic compliance did not differ between groups. We conclude that stepwise gastric distension caused an increase in muscle sympathetic nerve activity in both groups, but the increase in the elderly was attenuated.

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