Objective: Our aim was to characterize autonomic dysfunction in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) using heart rate variability (HRV) studies.
Methods: EKG signals were obtained from 35 patients (mean age, 39.1 +/- 9.5 yr, M:F ratio = 2.9:1) and 18 healthy controls (mean age, 38.2 +/- 6.5 yr, M:F ratio = 2:1) in supine, standing, and deep-breathing modes. Fast Fourier transformation and autoregressive techniques were used to analyze the HRV power spectra in very low (VLF, 0.0078-0.04 Hz), low (LF, 0.04-0.14 Hz), and high (HF, 0.14-0.4 Hz) frequency bands.
Results: In the supine position, the VLF power spectral density (PSD) in IBS was significantly higher than normal (3 vs 1.3 beats per minute [bpm]2/Hz, p < 0.01). On changing from the supine to standing position, the normals (NC) had raised median PSDs in the VLF (1.3 vs 12.8 bpm2/Hz, p < 0.01) and LF (1.6 vs 6.1 bpm2/Hz, p < 0.01) bands, as a sign of increased sympathetic tone, whereas the median HF PSDs (parasympathetic tone) remained unchanged (1.8 bpm2/Hz each, p = 0.8). Similarly, the IBS patients had increased VLF (3.04 vs 14.93 bpm2/Hz, p < 0.01) and LF (2.8 vs 8.7 bpm2/Hz, p < 0.01) PSDs on standing up, but the HF PSD was also raised (from 2.4 to 5.7 bpm2/Hz, p = 0.04). On changing from standing to the deep-breathing mode, the normals had a significant increase in the HF (from 1.8 to 10.3 bpm2/Hz, p < 0.001) and a significant reduction of the VLF (from 12.8 to 2.2 bpm2/Hz, p < 0.01) PSDs. The reduction of the LF PSD was not significant (from 6.1 to 5.6 bpm2/Hz, p = 0.6). In IBS, HF PSD remained constant (5.7 bpm2/Hz each, p = 0.6), whereas the LF PSD increased from 8.7 to 24.2 bpm2/Hz (p < 0.0001). The VLF PSD was reduced (from 14.9 to 4.1 bpm2/Hz, p < 0.0001). In IBS, the median sympathovagal outflow ratio was significantly lower in the standing position (1.4 vs 2.8, p < 0.02) and higher in the deep-breathing mode (7.33 vs 0.42, p < 0.0001) than normal.
Conclusions: IBS patients have reduced sympathetic influence on the heart period in response to orthostatic stress and diminished parasympathetic modulation during deep breathing.