The role of maternal cardiac vagal control in the association between depressive symptoms and gestational hypertension

Biol Psychol. 2016 May;117:32-42. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2016.02.002. Epub 2016 Feb 8.


Reduced cardiac vagal control, indexed by relatively lower high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV), is implicated in depressed mood and hypertensive disorders among non-pregnant adults whereas research in pregnancy is limited. This study examined whether maternal HF-HRV during pregnancy mediates the association between depressed mood and gestational hypertension. Depressive symptoms (Edinburgh Depression Scale) and HF-HRV were measured during early (M=14.9 weeks) and late (M=32.4 weeks) pregnancy in 287 women. Gestational hypertension was determined by chart review. Depressive symptoms were associated with less HF-HRV (b=-0.02, p=.001). There was an indirect effect of depressed mood on gestational hypertension through late pregnancy HF-HRV (b=0.04, 95% CI 0.0038, 0.1028) after accounting for heart rate. These findings suggest cardiac vagal control is a possible pathway through which prenatal depressed mood is associated with gestational hypertension, though causal ordering remains uncertain.

Keywords: Cardiac vagal control; Depressive symptoms; Gestational hypertension; Heart rate; High-frequency heart rate variability; Pregnancy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Pregnancy-Induced / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Vagus Nerve / physiology*

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