Background: Heart rate, measured as beat-to-beat intervals, is not constant and varies in time. This property is known as heart rate variability (HRV) and it has been investigated in several diseases, including myocardial infarction (MI). The main hypothesis is that HRV embed some physiological processes that are characteristics of regulatory systems acting on cardiovascular system. It is possible to quantify such a complex behaviour starting from RR intervals properties itself with the idea that any event affecting the cardiac regulatory system significantly will disrupt and change HRV. In this article, we first review different methodologies previously published to calculate HRV indexes. We then searched literature for studies published on HRV and MI and we derive a metanalysis where published data allow calculation of composite outcomes.
Material and methods: Articles considered eligible for metanalysis were original retrospective/prospective studies investigating HRV after myocardial infarction, reporting follow up for mortality or significant cardiac complications. Random effect model was used to assessed for homogeneity and calculate composite outcome and its 95% confidence interval (CI).
Results: 21 studies were identified as eligible for subsequent analysis. Among these studies 5 large trials were eligible for metanalysis: "they included 3489 total post-MI patient with an overall mortality of 125/577 (21.7%) in patients with standard deviation of RR intervals (SDNN) less than 70 msec compared to 235/2912 (8.1%) in patients with SDNN > 70 msec". Metanalysis demonstrates that, after a MI, patients with SDNN below 70 msec on 24 hours ECG recording have almost 4 times more chance to die in the next 3 years.
Conclusion: Results from metanalysis and other studies considered (but not included in the analysis) are consistent with the final finding, that a disrupted HRV dynamic (low SDNN) is associated with higher adverse outcome. In this perspective, although data are strongly positive for a direct relationship between SDNN and mortality after MI, SDNN value must be considered carefully on a single patient. The primary purpose of the metanalysis was to address whether studies conducted on HRV and MI were consistent rather than established a cut-off for SDNN. HRV is simple, non invasive and relatively not expensive to obtain.