The aim of the study was to evaluate the usefulness of Holter monitoring for the detection of silent myocardial ischemia (SMI) in elderly type 2 diabetic patients with hypertension and the possible relationship between SMI and cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (CAN). Two hundred and forty-three asymptomatic outpatients, aged 65-75 years, with type 2 diabetes and essential hypertension underwent 24-h ECG monitoring and 5 tests for the evaluation of both parasympathetic (heart rate variability, response to breath deeping, and Valsalva manoeuvre) and sympathetic (cold pressor test and orthostatic hypotension test) autonomic function. A total of 518 asymptomatic episodes of ST depression during Holter monitoring indicative of SMI were detected in 51 of the 243 studied patients (20.9 %). None of the patients with ST depression episodes exhibited a normal response to at least one of the evaluated autonomic function tests, whereas 22 of the 192 patients without ST changes (11.4 %) exhibited a normal response to all tests. Abnormality in both parasympathetic and sympathetic function test responses was found in 94.1 % of patients with ST depression episodes vs 26.1 % of those without ST changes (P < 0.001). Statistical evaluation of the relationship between the abnormal response to single autonomic function test and episodes of ST depression was highly significant for all the 5 tests (P < 0.001). These results indicate that: (a) Holter monitoring enables to detect ST segment changes indicative of SMI in 20.9 % of elderly diabetic patients with hypertension; (b) the presence of autonomic cardiac dysfunction in these patients suggests a role of diabetic neuropathy in the pathogenesis of SMI; and
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