This review focuses on how to assess autonomic function in humans including various ways to measure heart rate, catecholamines, and sympathetic neural activity. The need to assess autonomic function is paramount in many experimental paradigms because of the following. (1) Autonomic dysfunction is present in common diseases like hypertension, diabetes and heart failure, and the magnitude of this dysfunction is broadly related to morbidity and mortality in these disorders. (2) The relationship between autonomic dysfunction and morbidity and mortality can be causal. (3) Interventions that modulate or reverse autonomic dysfunction can improve outcomes in the affected patients. The techniques discussed are also frequently used to understand the autonomic response to sympathoexcitatory manoeuvres like exercise, the cold pressor test or mental stress. Because these manoeuvres can engage a variety of sensory and efferent pathways, under some circumstances the physiological responses measured by many of the techniques are directionally similar, in others they are divergent. Thus any investigator seeking to study the autonomic nervous system or its contribution to either normal physiology or pathophysiological conditions must carefully balance a number of considerations to ensure that the right technique is used to address the question of interest. (Figure presented.) .
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