Autonomic nervous system function was studied in 51 patients with tension-type headache. The Valsalva manoeuvre, deep breathing test, sustained handgrip test, orthostatic test and spectral analysis of heart rate variability in the supine and standing positions were performed in a group of 51 patients of both sexes aged 21 to 50 years and in an age-matched control group of 45 healthy volunteers.
Diastolic blood pressure increase and particularly heart rate increase during sustained handgrip were significantly reduced in the headache group, when compared to the control group, while the results of the remaining tests did not significantly differ between the control and headache groups. No significant differences were found between the episodic (19 patients) and chronic (32 patients) tension-type headache subgroups.
It is concluded that sympathetic function is impaired in tension-type headache patients.