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The arterial baroreflex is crucial for short-term blood pressure control - abnormal baroreflex function predisposes to syncope and falling. Hypersensitive responses to carotid baroreflex stimulation using carotid sinus massage (CSM) are common in older adults and may be associated with syncope. The pathophysiology of this hypersensitivity is unknown, but chronic denervation of the sternocleidomastoid muscles is common in elderly patients with carotid sinus hypersensitivity (CSH), and is proposed to interfere with normal integration of afferent firing from the carotid baroreceptors with proprioceptive feedback from the sternocleidomastoids, producing large responses to CSM. We hypothesized that simulation of sternocleidomastoid "denervation" using pharmacological blockade would increase cardiovascular responses to CSM. Thirteen participants received supine and tilted CSM prior to intramuscular injections (6-8 mL distributed over four sites) of 2% lidocaine hydrochloride, and 0.9% saline (placebo) in contralateral sternocleidomastoid muscles. Muscle activation was recorded with electromyography (EMG) during maximal unilateral sternocleidomastoid contraction both pre- and postinjection. Supine and tilted CSM were repeated following injections and responses compared to preinjection. Following lidocaine injection, the muscle activation fell to 23 ± 0.04% of the preinjection value (P < 0.001), confirming neural block of the sternocleidomastoid muscles. Cardiac (RRI, RR interval), forearm vascular resistance (FVR), and systolic arterial pressure (SAP) responses to CSM did not increase after lidocaine injection in either supine or tilted positions (supine: ΔRRI -72 ± 31 ms, ΔSAP +2 ± 1 mmHg, ΔFVR +4 ± 4%; tilted: ΔRRI -20 ± 13 ms, ΔSAP +2 ± 2 mmHg, ΔFVR +2 ± 4%; all P > 0.05). Neural block of the sternocleidomastoid muscles does not increase cardiovascular responses to CSM. The pathophysiology of CSH remains unknown. © 2017 The Authors. Physiological Reports published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of The Physiological Society and the American Physiological Society.


Matthew G Lloyd, James M Wakeling, Michael S Koehle, Robert J Drapala, Victoria E Claydon. Carotid sinus hypersensitivity: block of the sternocleidomastoid muscle does not affect responses to carotid sinus massage in healthy young adults. Physiological reports. 2017 Oct;5(19)

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PMID: 29038360

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