The sympathetic release test: a test used to assess thermoregulation and autonomic control of blood flow.

E. A. Tansey*, S. M. Roe, C. D. Johnson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


When a subject is heated, the stimulation of temperature-sensitive nerve endings in the skin, and the raising of the central body temperature, results in the reflex release of sympathetic vasoconstrictor tone in the skin of the extremities, causing a measurable temperature increase at the site of release. In the sympathetic release test, the subject is gently heated by placing the feet and calves in a commercially available foot warming pouch or immersing the feet and calves in warm water and wrapping the subject in blankets. Skin blood flow is estimated from measurements of skin temperature in the fingers. Normally skin temperature of the fingers is 65-75 degrees F in cool conditions (environmental temperature: 59-68 degrees F) and rises to 85-95 degrees F during body heating. Deviations in this pattern may mean that there is abnormal sympathetic vasoconstrictor control of skin blood flow. Abnormal skin blood flow can substantially impair an individual's ability to thermoregulate and has important clinical implications. During whole body heating, the skin temperature from three different skin sites is monitored and oral temperature is monitored as an index of core temperature. Students determine the fingertip temperature at which the reflex release of sympathetic activity occurs and its maximal attainment, which reflects the vasodilating capacity of this cutaneous vascular bed. Students should interpret typical sample data for certain clinical conditions (Raynaud's disease, peripheral vascular disease, and postsympathectomy) and explain why there may be altered skin blood flow in these disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-92
Number of pages6
JournalAdvances in Physiology Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2014


  • heat stress
  • skin temperature
  • skin blood flow
  • sympathetic vasoconstrictor nerves


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