Effects of atropine and propranolol on the respiratory, circulatory, and ECG responses to high altitude in man

  • E. A. Koller
  • S. Drechsel
  • T. Hess
  • P. Macherel
  • U. Boutellier


In order to anlayse the respiratory, cardiovascular, and ECG responses to acute hypoxic hypoxia, three experimental series were carried out in a randomized manner on 11 healthy, unacclimatized volunteers at rest during standardized stepwise exposure to 6000 m (PAO2 35.2±2.9 mmHg/4.7±0.4 kPa) in a low-pressure chamber a) without (control), b) with propranolol, and c) with atropine combined with propranolol. The results, show that hypoxic hyperventilation and alveolar gases are not affected by activation of the sympatho-adrenal axis or by parasympathetic withdrawal. Sympathetic activity, however, increases heart rate, stroke volume (pulse pressure), estimated cardiac output and systolic blood pressure, whereas decreased parasympathetic activity increases heart rate and estimated cardiac output, but lowers stroke volume. The fall in peripheral resistance, observed during progressive hypoxia in all three groups, is thought to be due to hypoxia-induced depression of the vasomotor center. At altitude catecholamine secretion and vagal withdrawal synergistically account in the ECG for the R-R shortening, the relative Q-T lengthening, the elevation of the P wave and the ST-T flattening. Probable direct hypoxic effects on the heart are the increase in P-Q duration and the minor but still significant depression of the T wave. It is concluded that at altitude increased sympatho-adrenal and decreased parasympathetic activity is without effect on hypoxic hyperventilation, but accounts for most of the cardiovascular and ECG changes. Diminution of sympathetic activity and imminent vagotonia arising after acute ascent to 6000 m probably reflect hypoxia of the central nervous system.

Key words

Autonomic control Respiration Circulation ECG Hypoxia 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. A. Koller
    • 1
  • S. Drechsel
    • 1
  • T. Hess
    • 1
  • P. Macherel
    • 1
  • U. Boutellier
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PhysiologyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland

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