Is heart rate variability better than routine vital signs for prehospital identification of major hemorrhage?

Am J Emerg Med. 2015 Feb;33(2):254-61. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2014.11.046. Epub 2014 Dec 3.


Objective: During initial assessment of trauma patients, metrics of heart rate variability (HRV) have been associated with high-risk clinical conditions. Yet, despite numerous studies, the potential of HRV to improve clinical outcomes remains unclear. Our objective was to evaluate whether HRV metrics provide additional diagnostic information, beyond routine vital signs, for making a specific clinical assessment: identification of hemorrhaging patients who receive packed red blood cell (PRBC) transfusion.

Methods: Adult prehospital trauma patients were analyzed retrospectively, excluding those who lacked a complete set of reliable vital signs and a clean electrocardiogram for computation of HRV metrics. We also excluded patients who did not survive to admission. The primary outcome was hemorrhagic injury plus different PRBC transfusion volumes. We performed multivariate regression analysis using HRV metrics and routine vital signs to test the hypothesis that HRV metrics could improve the diagnosis of hemorrhagic injury plus PRBC transfusion vs routine vital signs alone.

Results: As univariate predictors, HRV metrics in a data set of 402 subjects had comparable areas under receiver operating characteristic curves compared with routine vital signs. In multivariate regression models containing routine vital signs, HRV parameters were significant (P<.05) but yielded areas under receiver operating characteristic curves with minimal, nonsignificant improvements (+0.00 to +0.05).

Conclusions: A novel diagnostic test should improve diagnostic thinking and allow for better decision making in a significant fraction of cases. Our findings do not support that HRV metrics add value over routine vital signs in terms of prehospital identification of hemorrhaging patients who receive PRBC transfusion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Emergency Medical Services / methods*
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion
  • Female
  • Heart Rate* / physiology
  • Hemorrhage / diagnosis*
  • Hemorrhage / etiology
  • Hemorrhage / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Vital Signs* / physiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications
  • Wounds and Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Wounds and Injuries / physiopathology