Author(s): Spallone V
The utility of standard cardiovascular tests for diagnosis of cardiac autonomic neuropathy in diabetes has been well documented. Attention must be paid to standardizing the procedure with regard to time of day, metabolic status, distance from meal and insulin, coffee and smoking avoidance, and patient's collaboration. In the presence of cardiovascular disease or drugs affecting the cardiovascular or autonomic nervous system, some caution is needed in interpreting the results. More recent reflex tests, which evaluate mainly sympathetic or baroreflex activity, despite their ability to detect early autonomic involvement, lack sufficient standardization and still need to be proved as valid alternatives. Of the different methods of measuring heart rate variability, spectral analysis has a greater ability to differentiate vagal and sympathetic modulation of heart rate than do time-domain methods. However, since these latter methods are easier and more widely available, they can be used as a screening approach. Twenty-four-hour evaluation of heart rate variability provides data on the circadian rhythm of sympathovagal activity, which can be affected earlier than and differently from cardiovascular reflex tests. Information obtained could have prognostic implications in terms of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality and offer therapeutic opportunities. However, a wide consensus on many technical aspects of both time-domain and frequency-domain methods is needed. Furthermore, large prospective studies in the diabetic population to assess the prognostic value of 24-h heart rate variability parameters on cardiovascular morbidity and mortality are lacking. Recently, I123 meta-iodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scintigraphy has documented abnormalities of sympathetic myocardial innervation also in newly diagnosed IDDM. The meaning of this finding, whether it is an expression of functional or structural defects, needs to be clarified. Preliminary data point to a possible pathogenetic meaning of the known association between autonomic neuropathy and other diabetic complications. This area of investigation could provide useful insights into the complex and multifactorial pathogenesis of diabetic complications.