Pulse rate variability is not a surrogate for heart rate variability

Clin Sci (Lond). 1999 Oct;97(4):391-7.


To investigate the differences between heart rate (HR) variability and pulse rate (PR) variability, short-term variability of finger pulse wave and ECG signals were studied in 10 children with a fixed ventricular pacemaker rhythm (80 beats/min). Ten healthy children in sinus rhythm served as a reference population. Distal PR and HR were measured continuously using a Finapres device and an ECG respectively. Power spectra for HR and PR were calculated in both the supine and orthostatic positions. In paced subjects, PR spectra exhibited the characteristic respiratory peak, although the HR spectra were flat. Similarly, in healthy children the respiratory fluctuations were more pronounced when calculated from the finger pulse wave signal compared with the ECG signal. The overestimation of HR respiratory fluctuation resulting from distal PR measurement was more pronounced in the standing position; however, this postural effect was demonstrated only in healthy subjects. We observed mechanical respiratory modulation of distal PR independent of classical HR modulations. Our results suggest a mechanical respiratory influence via cardiac output and aortic transmural pressure changes on pulse wave velocity. We conclude that respiratory PR variability does not precisely reflect respiratory HR variability in standing healthy subjects and in patients with low HR variability. Consequently, HR modulation should be studied using the ECG signal rather than the distal pulse wave signal. However, when ECG recording is not available, the distal pulse wave is an acceptable alternative.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cardiac Pacing, Artificial*
  • Child
  • Electrocardiography
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Posture / physiology
  • Pulse*
  • Respiration
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted