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Am J Physiol. 1997 Apr;272(4 Pt 2):H1643-9.

Autonomic modulation of ventricular rate in atrial fibrillation.

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Department of Cardiological Sciences, St. George's Hospital Medical School, London, United Kingdom.


This study investigated the changes in R-R interval in 23 patients (11 men and 12 women; mean age 61 yr) with persistent atrial fibrillation in response to several provocative maneuvers including active postural change, Valsalva maneuver, handgrip, and rhythm-controlled respiration. Averaged R-R intervals were shortened immediately after postural change (from 797 +/- 35 ms supine to 677 +/- 27 ms standing; P < 0.01) and recovered to the 90% level within 100 s. During Valsalva strain and handgrip, mean R-R intervals were significantly shortened (from 737 +/- 37 ms sitting to 697 +/- 38 ms in Valsalva and from 773 +/- 68 ms sitting to 701 +/- 58 ms in handgrip; both P < 0.01). During rhythm-controlled respiration, only two cases (10.5%) showed power peaks in spectrograms of moving-window-averaged R-R intervals at the frequency corresponding to respiration rhythm. The ventricular response to atrial fibrillation is influenced by an increase in sympathetic tone and a decrease in parasympathetic tone but is not necessarily influenced by the increase in parasympathetic dominance. These results suggest that even in atrial fibrillation patients, the autonomic nervous system modulates the ventricular rate via the atrioventricular node and atrial tissue.

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