The roles of muscle afferent activity and central drive in controlling the compromised cardiovascular system of patients with mild chronic heart failure (CHF) during isometric exercise were examined. Blood pressure and heart rate responses were recorded in eight stable CHF patients (ejection fraction 20–40%; age 62±11 years) and in nine healthy age-matched controls during voluntary and electrically evoked isometric plantar flexion and subsequent post-exercise circulatory occlusion (PECO). During voluntary contraction, control subjects had a greater mean increase in systolic blood pressure than patients (42.4±19.2 and 23.0±10.9 mmHg respectively; P < 0.01), but this was not the case during PECO. During electrically evoked contraction, but not during PECO, the CHF group had smaller (P < 0.05) mean increases in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure than controls (13.0±5.3 compared with 25.4±14.0 mmHg and 7.6±3.0 compared with 12.9±7.2 mmHg respectively). Intra-group comparison between responses to voluntary and electrically evoked contractions revealed greater (P < 0.05) mean increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure during the voluntary contraction in both the patients and the control subjects. These data suggest that muscle afferent drive to the pressor response from the triceps surae is low in this age group, both in control subjects and in CHF patients. Additionally, the patients may have a relatively desensitized muscle mechanoreceptor reflex.

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