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Abnormalities in autonomic function have been observed in people with anorexia nervosa. However, the majority of investigations have utilised heart rate variability as the sole assessment of autonomic activity. The current study utilised a variety of methodologies to assess autonomic nervous system function in women with a current diagnosis of anorexia, a past diagnosis of anorexia who were weight-restored, and healthy controls. The sample included 37 participants: 10 participants with anorexia, 17 weight-restored participants (minimum body mass index > 18.5 for minimum of 12 months) and 10 controls. Assessments of autonomic function included muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) using microneurography, heart rate variability, baroreflex sensitivity, blood pressure variability, head-up tilt table test, sudomotor function and assessment of plasma catecholamines. MSNA (bursts/min) was significantly decreased in both anorexia (10.22 ± 6.24) and weight-restored (17.58 ± 1.68) groups, as compared to controls (23.62 ± 1.01, p < 0.001 and p = 0.033, respectively). Participants with anorexia had a significantly lower standard deviation in heart rate, lower blood pressure variability and decreased sudomotor function as compared to controls. Weight-restored participants demonstrated decreased baroreflex sensitivity in response to head-up tilt as compared to controls. Women with a current or previous diagnosis of anorexia have significantly decreased sympathetic activity, which may reflect a physiological response to decreased energy intake. During the state of starvation, women with anorexia also displayed decreased sudomotor function. The consequences of a sustained decrease in MSNA are unknown, and future studies should investigate autonomic function in long-term weight-restored participants to determine whether activity returns to normal. © 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany.


Zoe M Jenkins, David J Castle, Nina Eikelis, Andrea Phillipou, Gavin W Lambert, Elisabeth A Lambert. Autonomic nervous system function in women with anorexia nervosa. Clinical autonomic research : official journal of the Clinical Autonomic Research Society. 2022 Feb;32(1):29-42

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PMID: 34762216

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