Introduction: Heat stress significantly reduces orthostatic tolerance in humans. The mechanism(s) causing this response remain unknown. The purpose of this review article is to present data pertaining to the hypothesis that reduced orthostatic tolerance in heat stressed individuals is a result of heat stress induced alterations in baroflex function.
Methods: In both normothermic and heat stressed conditions baroreflex responsiveness was assessed via pharmacological and non-pharmacological methods. In addition, the effects of heat stress on post-synaptic vasoconstrictor responsiveness were assessed.
Results: Generally, whole body heating did not alter baroreflex sensitivity defined as the gain of the linear portion of the baroreflex curve around the operating point. However, whole body heating shifted the baroreflex curve to the prevailing (i.e. elevated) heart rate and muscle sympathetic nerve activity. Finally, the heat stress impaired vasoconstrictor responses to exogenous administration of adrenergic agonists.
Conclusion: Current data do not support the hypothesis that reduced orthostatic tolerance associated with heat stress in humans is due to impaired baroreflex responsiveness. This phenomenon may be partially due to the effects of heat stress on reducing vasoconstrictor responsiveness.