Background: We evaluate a simple, bedside test that measures 1-minute heart rate variability in deep breathing as a predictor of death after myocardial infarction.
Methods: Bedside heart rate variability was assessed in 185 consecutive patients 5.1 +/- 2.5 days after a first myocardial infarction. Patients were instructed to take 6 deep respirations in 1 minute while changes in heart rate were measured and calculated by an electrocardiographic recorder. An abnormal test result was defined as a difference of less than 10 beats/min between the shortest and longest heart rate interval.
Results: Heart rate variability <10 beats/min was found in 65 patients (35%) and was significantly lower (P <.05) in women, patients >60 years of age, patients with diabetes, patients with congestive heart failure, and patients taking angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors. Mean follow-up period was 16 months. Ten patients died during follow-up: 9 of cardiac causes and 1 of stroke. Nine of these 10 patients had heart rate variability <10 beats/min (P =.004). The sensitivity and specificity of this test for cardiovascular mortality is 90.0% and 68.0%, respectively. The negative predictive value is 99.2% and the relative risk is 16.6. Heart rate variability <10 beats/min remained a significant predictor of death after adjusting for clinical, demographic, and left ventricular function with an odds ratio of 1.38 (95% confidence interval, 1.13-1.63).
Conclusions: This simple, brief bedside deep breathing test of heart rate variability in patients after myocardial infarction appears to be a good predictor for all-cause mortality and sudden death. It may be used as a clinical test for risk stratification after myocardial infarction.