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Pharmacol Ther. 2012 Jun;134(3):279-86. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2011.05.009. Epub 2011 Jun 12.

Pharmacotherapy of autonomic failure.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Clinical Pharmacology and the Autonomic Dysfunction Center, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN 37212, USA.


The clinical picture of autonomic failure is characterized by severe and disabling orthostatic hypotension. These disorders can develop as a result of damage of central neural pathways or peripheral autonomic nerves, caused either by a primary autonomic neurodegenerative disorder or secondary to systemic illness. Treatment should be focused on decreasing pre-syncopal symptoms instead of achieving blood pressure goals. Non-pharmacologic strategies such as physical counter-maneuvers, dietary changes (i.e. high salt diet, rapid water drinking or compression garments) are the first line therapy. Affected patients should be screened for co-morbid conditions such as post-prandial hypotension and supine hypertension that can worsen orthostatic hypotension if not treated. If symptoms are not controlled with these conservative measures the next step is to start pharmacological agents; these interventions should be aimed at increasing intravascular volume either by promoting water and salt retention (fludrocortisone) or by increasing red blood cell mass when anemia is present (recombinant erythropoietin). When pressor agents are needed, direct pressor agents (midodrine) or agents that potentiate sympathetic activity (atomoxetine, yohimbine, pyridostigmine) can be used. It is preferable to use short-acting pressor agents that can be taken on as needed basis in preparation for upright activities.

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