Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) is the beat-to-beat fluctuation in heart rate at the frequency of the respiratory cycle. While it is common to study RSA under conditions of controlled breathing, where respiratory frequency, and sometimes tidal volume and inspiratory:expiratory ratio are controlled, the effect of controlled breathing on RSA is not clear. While not all studies exploring the effects of controlled breathing on RSA magnitude are consistent, some of the best-designed studies addressing this question did find a significant effect. In addition to respiratory timing influencing heartbeats, there is evidence that cardiac timing also influences respiratory timing, termed cardioventilatory coupling. Thus, the timing interactions between the cardiac and respiratory systems are complex, and bi-directional. Controlled breathing eliminates one aspect of this relationship, and studies designed to understand cardiorespiratory physiology conducted under these conditions need to be interpreted with an understanding that they may not represent normal physiology.
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