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Sympathetic activation in congestive heart failure: an updated overview


Conclusive evidence demonstrates that the sympathetic nervous system activation is a hallmark of congestive heart failure. This has been shown via a variety of biochemical, neurophysiological, and neuroimaging approaches for studying human sympathetic neural function. The sympathetic activation appears to be an early phenomenon in the clinical course of the disease, closely related to its severity and potentiated by the concomitant presence of other comorbidities, such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, and renal failure. The adrenergic overdrive in heart failure is associated with other sympathetic abnormalities, such as the downregulation of beta-adrenergic adrenoreceptors at cardiac level, and exerts unfavorable consequences on the cardiovascular system. These include the endothelial dysfunction, the development of left ventricular hypertrophy, the atherosclerosis development, as well as the generation of atrial and ventricular arrhythmias, and, at very extreme levels of sympathetic activation, the occurrence of microscopic myocardial necrosis. Given the close direct independent relationships detected in heart failure between sympathetic activation and mortality, the adrenergic overdrive has become a target of neuromodulatory therapeutic interventions, which include non-pharmacological, pharmacological, and device-based interventions. For some of these approaches (specifically bilateral renal nerves ablation and carotid baroreceptor stimulation), additional studies are needed to better define their impact on the clinical course of the disease.

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Correspondence to Guido Grassi.

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Grassi, G., Quarti-Trevano, F. & Esler, M.D. Sympathetic activation in congestive heart failure: an updated overview. Heart Fail Rev (2019).

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  • Heart failure
  • Sympathetic nervous system
  • Baroreceptors
  • Neuromodulation