BACKGROUND - Endurance athletes have a high incidence of orthostatic intolerance. We hypothesized that this is related to an abnormally large decrease in left ventricular end-diastolic volume (LVEDV) and stroke volume (SV) for any given decrease in filling pressure.
METHODS AND RESULTS - We measured pulmonary capillary wedge (PCW) pressure (Swan-Ganz catheter), LVEDV (two-dimensional echocardiography), and cardiac output (C2H2 rebreathing) during lower body negative pressure (LBNP, -15 and -30 mm Hg) and rapid saline infusion (15 and 30 ml/kg) in seven athletes and six controls (VO2max, 68 +/- 7 and 41 +/- 4 ml/kg/min). Orthostatic tolerance was determined by progressive LBNP to presyncope. Athletes had steeper slopes of their SV/PCW pressure curves than nonathletes (5.5 +/- 2.7 versus 2.7 +/- 1.5 ml/mm Hg, p less than 0.05). The slope of the steep, linear portion of this curve correlated significantly with the duration of LBNP tolerance (r = 0.58, p = 0.04). The athletes also had reduced chamber stiffness (increased chamber compliance) expressed as the slope (k) of the dP/dV versus P relation (chamber stiffness, k = 0.008 +/- 0.004 versus 0.031 +/- 0.004, p less than 0.005; chamber compliance, 1/k = 449.8 +/- 283.8 versus 35.3 +/- 4.3). This resulted in larger absolute and relative changes in end-diastolic volume over an equivalent range of filling pressures.
CONCLUSIONS - Endurance athletes have greater ventricular diastolic chamber compliance and distensibility than nonathletes and thus operate on the steep portion of their Starling curve. This may be a mechanical, nonautonomic cause of orthostatic intolerance.