Normal baseline cardiac autonomic function and increased pupillary parasympathetic tone in patients with vasovagal syncope

Udi Nussinovitch*, Sapir Barak-Lanciano, Itay Shavit, Ishay Avivi, Ella Haber-Kaptsenel, Hagar Palacci, Chen Chaiat, Ronen Rubinshtein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is controversial whether people with vasovagal syncope (VVS) have abnormal autonomic responses at baseline and whether specific diagnostic manoeuvres have a diagnostic value. We investigated whether the pupillary light reflex and cardiac autonomic tests can be used to identify autonomic dysfunction in volunteers with a medical history of VVS. The study groups included 128 healthy volunteers, of whom 31 reported a history of typical VVS. The right pupil was evaluated using an automated, commercial infra-red pupillometer under strict conditions. In addition to miosis and mydriasis kinetics, pupil diameters were measured. Heart rate variability at rest and heart rate changes to standing were quantified with high-resolution electrocardiography and designated software. The demographic and clinical characteristics of both groups were statistically similar. Average constriction velocity (ACV) was significantly higher in VVS patients following a univariate analysis (3.83 ± 0.59 vs. 3.56 ± 0.73 mm/s, p = 0.042) and after correcting for potential confounders (p = 0.049). All other pupillometric and heart rate indices were comparable between groups. Patients with a history of VVS depict pupillary parasympathetic overactivity in response to light stimuli, manifested as increased ACV. The prognostic implications of this finding and the significance of using this simple clinical tool to identify patients who are at risk for developing frequent episodes of VVS or physical injuries following a syncope merits further study.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Physiology and Functional Imaging
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • autonomic nervous system
  • average constriction velocity
  • pupillary light reflex
  • pupillometry
  • transient loss of consciousness
  • vasovagal syncope


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