Cerebral blood flow remains reduced after tilt testing in myalgic encephalomyelitis/ chronic fatigue syndrome patients, by C Linda MC van Campen, Peter C Rowe, Frans C Visser in Clinical Neurophysiology Practice Vol 6, 2021, Pages 245-255 [doi.org/10.1016/j.cnp.2021.09.001]



  • Cerebral blood flow in ME/CFS patients remains abnormal 5 minutes post-tilt test.
  • Post cerebral blood flow abnormalities do not depend on hemodynamic results and on end-tidal carbon dioxide pressures during the tilt-test.
  • Post cerebral blood flow abnormalities are most severe in more severely diseased ME/CFS patients.

Research abstract:


Orthostatic symptoms in myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) may be caused by an abnormal reduction in cerebral blood flow. An abnormal cerebral blood flow reduction was shown in previous studies, without information on the recovery pace of cerebral blood flow. This study examined the prevalence and risk factors for delayed recovery of cerebral blood flow in ME/CFS patients.


60 ME/CFS adults were studied: 30 patients had a normal heart rate and blood pressure response during the tilt test, 4 developed delayed orthostatic hypotension, and 26 developed postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) during the tilt. Cerebral blood flow measurements, using extracranial Doppler, were made in the supine position pre-tilt, at end-tilt, and in the supine position at 5 minutes post-tilt. Also, cardiac index measurements were performed, using suprasternal Doppler imaging, as well as end-tidal PCO2 measurements. The change in cerebral blood flow from supine to end-tilt was expressed as a percent reduction with mean and (SD). Disease severity was scored as mild (approximately 50% reduction in activity), moderate (mostly housebound), or severe (mostly bedbound).


End-tilt cerebral blood flow reduction was -29 (6)%, improving to -16 (7)% at post-tilt. No differences in either end-tilt or post-tilt measurements were found when patients with a normal heart rate and blood pressure were compared to those with POTS, or between patients with normocapnia (end-tidal PCO2 ≥30 mmHg) versus hypocapnia (end-tidal PCO2 <30 mmHg) at end-tilt. A significant difference was found in the degree of abnormal cerebral blood flow reduction in the supine post-test in mild, moderate, and severe ME/CFS: mild: cerebral blood flow: -7 (2)%, moderate: -16 (3)%, and severe :-25 (4)% (p all <0.0001). Cardiac index declined significantly during the tilt test in all 3 severity groups, with no significant differences between the groups. In the supine post-test cardiac index returned to normal in all patients.


During tilt testing , extracranial Doppler measurements show that cerebral blood flow is reduced in ME/CFS patients and recovery to normal supine values is incomplete, despite cardiac index returning to pre-tilt values. The delayed recovery of cerebral blood flow was independent of the hemodynamic findings of the tilt test (normal heart rate and blood pressure response, POTS, or delayed orthostatic hypotension), or the presence/absence of hypocapnia, and was only related to clinical ME/CFS severity grading. We observed a significantly slower recovery in cerebral blood flow in the most severely ill ME/CFS patients.


The finding that orthostatic stress elicits a post-stress cerebral blood flow reduction and that disease severity greatly influences the cerebral blood flow reduction may have implications on the advice of energy management after a stressor and on the advice of lying down after a stressor in these ME/CFS patients.

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