Heart rate variability biofeedback decreases blood pressure in prehypertensive subjects by improving autonomic function and baroreflex

J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Feb;18(2):143-52. doi: 10.1089/acm.2010.0607.


Background: Individuals with prehypertension are at risk of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases, and yet efficient interventions are lagging behind. Studies indicate that heart rate variability-biofeedback (HRV-BF) increases HRV and baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) as well as reduces related pathological symptoms, suggesting potentially beneficial effects of HRV-BF on prehypertension, but little is known about these effects. In this study, these effects were investigated and their mechanisms were explored.

Objectives: The effect of HRV-BF on prehypertension in young adults and its potential mechanism were explored.

Design: Forty-three (43) individuals with prehypertension were recruited and classified into three categories: HRV-BF group, slow abdominal breathing group, and control group. All groups were assessed with measurements of noninvasive blood pressure (BP), BRS, respiration, and galvanic skin response (GSR) at pre-intervention, in the entire process of each session, at postintervention, as well as at a 3-month follow-up.

Interventions: Subjects participated in a 10-session HRV-BF protocol or simple slow abdominal breathing protocol conducted over 5 weeks. A 3-month follow-up was also performed on these individuals.

Results: The incidence of prehypertension was as high as 14.5% in young college students. Individuals with prehypertension were lower in BRS (7.5±5.2 ms/mm Hg) and HRV (log10-transformed of the standard deviation of normal-to-normal beats [SDNN]=1.62±0.13 ms, lgTotal power of spectral density in the range of frequencies between 0 and 0.4Hz (TP)=8.02±0.55 ms2) than those with normal blood pressure (BRS=18.4±7.4 ms/mm Hg, lgSDNN=1.79±0.10 ms, lgTP=8.68±0.85 ms2). HRV-BF reduced blood pressure (from 131.7±8.7/79.3±4.7 mm Hg to 118.9±7.3 mm Hg/71.9±4.9 mm Hg, p<0.01), increased BRS (from 7.0±5.9 ms/mm Hg to 15.8±5.3 ms/mm Hg, p<0.01) and increased HRV (lgSDNN from 1.61±0.11 to 1.75±0.05 ms, and lgTP from 8.07±0.54 to 9.08±0.41 ms2, p<0.01). These effects were more obvious than those of the slow-breathing group, and remained for at least 3 months. HRV-BF also significantly increased vagus-associated HRV indices and decreased GSR (indices of sympathetic tone).

Conclusions: These effects suggest that HRV-BF, a novel behavioral neurocardiac intervention, could enhance BRS, improve the cardiac autonomic tone, and facilitate BP adjustment for individuals with prehypertension.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Baroreflex / physiology*
  • Biofeedback, Psychology*
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Breathing Exercises
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Galvanic Skin Response
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prehypertension / physiopathology
  • Prehypertension / therapy*
  • Young Adult