Basic notions of heart rate variability and its clinical applicability

Rev Bras Cir Cardiovasc. 2009 Apr-Jun;24(2):205-17. doi: 10.1590/s0102-76382009000200018.


Autonomic nervous system (ANS) plays an important role in the regulation of the physiological processes of the human organism during normal and pathological conditions. Among the techniques used in its evaluation, the heart rate variability (HRV) has arising as a simple and non-invasive measure of the autonomic impulses, representing one of the most promising quantitative markers of the autonomic balance. The HRV describes the oscillations in the interval between consecutive heart beats (RR interval), as well as the oscillations between consecutive instantaneous heart rates. It is a measure that can be used to assess the ANS modulation under physiological conditions, such as wakefulness and sleep conditions, different body positions, physical training and also pathological conditions. Changes in the HRV patterns provide a sensible and advanced indicator of health involvements. Higher HRV is a signal of good adaptation and characterizes a health person with efficient autonomic mechanisms, while lower HRV is frequently an indicator of abnormal and insufficient adaptation of the autonomic nervous system, provoking poor patient's physiological function. Because of its importance as a marker that reflects the ANS activity on the sinus node and as a clinical instrument to assess and identify health involvements, this study reviews conceptual aspects of the HRV, measurement devices, filtering methods, indexes used in the HRV analyses, limitations in the use and clinical applications of the HRV.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System* / physiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System* / physiopathology
  • Biomarkers
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers