Following the publication of the Task Force document on heart rate variability (HRV) in 1996, a number of articles have been published to describe new HRV methodologies and their application in different physiological and clinical studies. This document presents a critical review of the new methods. A particular attention has been paid to methodologies that have not been reported in the 1996 standardization document but have been more recently tested in sufficiently sized populations. The following methods were considered: Long-range correlation and fractal analysis; Short-term complexity; Entropy and regularity; and Nonlinear dynamical systems and chaotic behaviour. For each of these methods, technical aspects, clinical achievements, and suggestions for clinical application were reviewed. While the novel approaches have contributed in the technical understanding of the signal character of HRV, their success in developing new clinical tools, such as those for the identification of high-risk patients, has been rather limited. Available results obtained in selected populations of patients by specialized laboratories are nevertheless of interest but new prospective studies are needed. The investigation of new parameters, descriptive of the complex regulation mechanisms of heart rate, has to be encouraged because not all information in the HRV signal is captured by traditional methods. The new technologies thus could provide after proper validation, additional physiological, and clinical meaning. Multidisciplinary dialogue and specialized courses in the combination of clinical cardiology and complex signal processing methods seem warranted for further advances in studies of cardiac oscillations and in the understanding normal and abnormal cardiac control processes.
Keywords: Autonomic nervous system; Entropy; Fractal signals; Heart rate variability; Nonlinear dynamics; Risk stratification; Signal analysis.
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