Dynamic analysis of cardiac R-R intervals in normal infants and in infants who subsequently succumbed to the sudden infant death syndrome

Pediatr Res. 1992 Jun;31(6):606-12. doi: 10.1203/00006450-199206000-00014.


Infants who subsequently succumb to the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) have higher heart rates and reduced heart rate variation compared with other infants. We examined dynamic changes in cardiac interbeat intervals to explore these differences in cardiac control. Recordings of electrocardiographic activity and respiratory movement were acquired from 13 SIDS victims before their deaths. Moment-to-moment changes in R-R intervals during quiet sleep, rapid eye movement sleep, and waking were compared with values of 13 matched control infants. For each sleep-waking state, every R-R interval was plotted against the previous interval (Poincaré plots), and each change in interbeat interval was plotted against the previous change. Dispersion of interbeat intervals at different heart rates was reduced in SIDS victims, resulting in Poincaré plots markedly different from those of controls. The dispersion, sampled at the 10th and 90th percentiles of heart rates, was reduced across all sleep-waking states in SIDS victims. At high heart rates, the difference between groups disappeared after correcting for basal rate; however, the reduced range at low heart rates was independent of basal rate. SIDS victims also showed smaller beat-to-beat changes in heart rate and fewer sustained runs of consistent heart rate changes during waking relative to controls. The differences in cardiac rate dynamics suggest altered autonomic control in infants who succumb to SIDS. We speculate that the autonomic disturbance may lead to cardiac instability or may indicate CNS alterations with the potential to affect other vital functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Biometry
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology*
  • Wakefulness / physiology