Background: Profound bradycardia during ophthalmic surgery is a rare but potentially serious event. Little is known about the predictability of the oculocardiac reflex. Methods: Four vagotonic maneuvers were performed on six patients who had profound oculocardiac reflex (3- to 10-second asystole) during eye surgery, the results of which were compared with 30 previously studied control subjects. Electrocardiographs were monitored during the following vagotonic maneuvers: diving response (apneic facial immersion), Valsalva maneuver, ocular compression, and carotid sinus massage. Results: The degree of heart rate slowing as a result of diving response, Valsalva maneuver, and, notably, ocular compression did not differ when these patients were compared with the 30 previously studied control subjects. Carotid sinus massage produced significantly (P = 0.01) more bradycardia in the six patients (mean ± standard deviation, -24% ± 6%) than in the 30 control subjects (-12% ± 7%). The heart rate response to pressure on the eyes did not correlate with prior intraoperative oculocardiac reflex. Conclusion: The discrepancy in heart rate sensitivity between surgical extraocular muscle tension and ocular compression may be due to different sensory receptors and brain stem processing for the trigeminally mediated oculocardiac reflex. Carotid sinus massage may help predict low heart rates during eye surgery.
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