Blood pressure regulation X: What happens when the muscle pump is lost? Post-exercise hypotension and syncope

John R. Halliwill, Dylan C. Sieck, Steven A. Romero, Tahisha M. Buck, Matthew R. Ely

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


Syncope which occurs suddenly in the setting of recovery from exercise, known as post-exercise syncope, represents a failure of integrative physiology during recovery from exercise. We estimate that between 50 and 80 % of healthy individuals will develop pre-syncopal signs and symptoms if subjected to a 15-min head-up tilt following exercise. Post-exercise syncope is most often neurally mediated syncope during recovery from exercise, with a combination of factors associated with post-exercise hypotension and loss of the muscle pump contributing to the onset of the event. One can consider the initiating reduction in blood pressure as the tip of the proverbial iceberg. What is needed is a clear model of what lies under the surface; a model that puts the observational variations in context and provides a rational framework for developing strategic physical or pharmacological countermeasures to ultimately protect cerebral perfusion and avert loss of consciousness. This review summarizes the current mechanistic understanding of post-exercise syncope and attempts to categorize the variation of the physiological processes that arise in multiple exercise settings. Newer investigations into the basic integrative physiology of recovery from exercise provide insight into the mechanisms and potential interventions that could be developed as countermeasures against post-exercise syncope. While physical counter maneuvers designed to engage the muscle pump and augment venous return are often found to be beneficial in preventing a significant drop in blood pressure after exercise, countermeasures that target the respiratory pump and pharmacological countermeasures based on the involvement of histamine receptors show promise.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)561-578
Number of pages18
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2014


  • Athletic performance
  • Baroreflex
  • Exercise
  • Hypotension, orthostatic
  • Post-exercise hypotension
  • Receptors, histamine
  • Recovery
  • Regional blood flow
  • Sympathetic nervous system
  • Syncope, vasovagal
  • Tilt-table test


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