Skin sympathetic nerve activity as a biomarker for syncopal episodes during a tilt table test

Awaneesh Kumar, Keith Wright, Domingo E. Uceda, Peter A. Vasallo, Perry L. Rabin, David Adams, Johnson Wong, Mithilesh Das, Shien Fong Lin, Peng Sheng Chen, Thomas H. Everett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background: Autonomic imbalance is the proposed mechanism of syncope during a tilt table test (TTT). We have recently demonstrated that skin sympathetic nerve activity (SKNA) can be noninvasively recorded using electrocardiographic electrodes. Objective: The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that increased SKNA activation precedes tilt-induced syncope. Methods: We studied 50 patients with a history of neurocardiogenic syncope undergoing a TTT. The recorded signals were band-pass filtered at 500–1000 Hz to analyze nerve activity. Results: The average SKNA (aSKNA) value at baseline was 1.38 ± 0.38 μV in patients without syncope and 1.42 ± 0.52 μV in patients with syncope (P = .77). On upright tilt, aSKNA was 1.34 ± 0.40 μV in patients who did not have syncope and 1.39 ± 0.43 μV in patients who had syncope (P = .65). In all 14 patients with syncope, there was a surge of SKNA before an initial increase in heart rate followed by bradycardia, hypotension, and syncope. The peak aSKNA immediately (<1 minute) before syncope was significantly higher than baseline aSKNA (2.63 ± 1.22 vs 1.39 ± 0.43 μV; P = .0005). After syncope, patients were immediately placed in the supine position and aSKNA dropped significantly to 1.26 ± 0.43 μV; (P = .0004). The heart rate variability during the TTT shows a significant increase in parasympathetic tone during syncope (low-frequency/high-frequency ratio: 7.15 vs 2.21; P = .04). Conclusion: Patients with syncope do not have elevated sympathetic tone at baseline or during the TTT except immediately before syncope when there is a transient surge of SKNA followed by sympathetic withdrawal along with parasympathetic surge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)804-812
Number of pages9
JournalHeart Rhythm
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2020


  • Heart rate variability
  • Nitroglycerine
  • Skin sympathetic nerve activity
  • Syncope
  • Tilt table test

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)

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