Quantitative autonomic testing in the management of botulism
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Even with mild neurological signs, patients with botulism frequently complain of autonomic symptoms. This study aimed at the evaluation of sudomotor and cardiovascular reflex functions by quantitative autonomic testing (QAT), which may identify patients with autonomic involvement but otherwise benign clinical presentation. Five patients with food-borne botulism were subjected to a structured questionnaire on autonomic symptoms, cardiac and neurological examination, and QAT after a median of 2 weeks (baseline) and 12 weeks (follow-up) post intoxication. For calculation of haemodynamic and cardiovascular autonomic parameters, we used the Task Force® Monitor (Version 2.1, CNSystems, Graz, Austria). Cardiovagal function was assessed by Ewing’s test battery. Autonomic complaints were more pronounced than neurological symptoms. Baseline tests revealed widely abnormal sudomotor function and marked impairment of heart rate variation and blood pressure response to standing. Prominent features of cardiovascular failure were high resting heart rate, supine hypertension, orthostatic hypotension, and impaired baroreflex function. Three patients reported inability to keep up with their routine amount of physical work. Based on the baseline QAT results, these three patients were instructed to engage in physical activity but avoid physical strain until there was considerable improvement. On follow-up, fatigue was the most frequent residual complaint, sympathetic skin responses were present, and cardiovascular QAT results were significantly improved and did not differ from those of ten control subjects. QAT identified autonomic involvement in botulism patients with otherwise benign neurological presentation. Comprehensive evaluation of autonomic failure may provide useful information for the management of botulism.