Carotid sinus hypersensitivity is the most commonly reported cause of falls and syncope in older persons. Recent guidelines recommend 5 to 10 seconds of carotid sinus massage in supine and upright positions with beat-to-beat monitoring. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of carotid sinus hypersensitivity in (1) an unselected community sample of older people and (2) a subsample with no history of syncope, dizziness, or falls using recently standardized diagnostic criteria.
One thousand individuals older than 65 years were randomly sampled from a single general practice register; 272 participants underwent supine and upright carotid sinus massage with continuous heart rate and phasic blood pressure monitoring. Carotid sinus hypersensitivity was defined as asystole of 3 seconds or greater and/or a drop in systolic blood pressure of 50 mm Hg or greater.
Carotid sinus hypersensitivity was present in 107 individuals (39%); 24% had asystole of 3 seconds or greater during carotid sinus massage; and 16% had symptoms (including syncope) with carotid sinus hypersensitivity. Age (odds ratio, 1.05; 95% confidence interval, 1.00-1.09) and male sex (odds ratio, 1.71; 95% confidence intervals, 1.04-2.82) were the only predictors of carotid sinus hypersensitivity. In 80 previously asymptomatic individuals, carotid sinus hypersensitivity was present in 28 (35%) and accompanied by symptoms in 10. The 95th percentile for carotid sinus massage response was 7.3 seconds' asystole and a 77–mm Hg drop in systolic blood pressure.
Carotid sinus hypersensitivity is common in older persons, even those with no history of syncope, dizziness, or falls. The finding of a hypersensitive response should not necessarily preclude further investigation for other causes of syncope.