Heart rate variability (HRV) is a known risk factor for mortality in both healthy and patient populations. There are currently no normative data for short-term measures of HRV. A thorough review of short-term HRV data published since 1996 was therefore performed. Data from studies published after the 1996 Task Force report (i.e., between January 1997 and September 2008) and reporting short-term measures of HRV obtained in normally healthy individuals were collated and factors underlying discrepant values were identified. Forty-four studies met the pre-set inclusion criteria involving 21,438 participants. Values for short-term HRV measures from the literature were lower than Task Force norms. A degree of homogeneity for common measures of HRV in healthy adults was shown across studies. A number of studies demonstrate large interindividual variations (up to 260,000%), particularly for spectral measures. A number of methodological discrepancies underlined disparate values. These include a systematic failure within the literature (a) to recognize the importance of RR data recognition/editing procedures and (b) to question disparate HRV values observed in normally healthy individuals. A need for large-scale population studies and a review of the Task Force recommendations for short-term HRV that covers the full-age spectrum were identified. Data presented should be used to quantify reference ranges for short-term measures of HRV in healthy adult populations but should be undertaken with reference to methodological factors underlying disparate values. Recommendations for the measurement of HRV require updating to include current technologies.
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