Do physiological and pathological stresses produce different changes in heart rate variability?

Front Physiol. 2013 Jul 30;4:197. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2013.00197. eCollection 2013.


Although physiological (e.g., exercise) and pathological (e.g., infection) stress affecting the cardiovascular system have both been documented to be associated with a reduction in overall heart rate variability (HRV), it remains unclear if loss of HRV is ubiquitously similar across different domains of variability analysis or if distinct patterns of altered HRV exist depending on the stressor. Using Continuous Individualized Multiorgan Variability Analysis (CIMVA™) software, heart rate (HR) and four selected measures of variability were measured over time (windowed analysis) from two datasets, a set (n = 13) of patients who developed systemic infection (i.e., sepsis) after bone marrow transplant (BMT), and a matched set of healthy subjects undergoing physical exercise under controlled conditions. HR and the four HRV measures showed similar trends in both sepsis and exercise. The comparison through Wilcoxon sign-rank test of the levels of variability at baseline and during the stress (i.e., exercise or after days of sepsis development) showed similar changes, except for LF/HF, ratio of power at low (LF) and high (HF) frequencies (associated with sympathovagal modulation), which was affected by exercise but did not show any change during sepsis. Furthermore, HRV measures during sepsis showed a lower level of correlation with each other, as compared to HRV during exercise. In conclusion, this exploratory study highlights similar responses during both exercise and infection, with differences in terms of correlation and inter-subject fluctuations, whose physiologic significance merits further investigation.

Keywords: dimensions of variability; disease; domains of variability; exercise; physical activity; sepsis.