Heart rate variability: Pre-deployment predictor of post-deployment PTSD symptoms

Biol Psychol. 2016 Dec;121(Pt A):91-98. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2016.10.008. Epub 2016 Oct 20.


Heart rate variability is a physiological measure associated with autonomic nervous system activity. This study hypothesized that lower pre-deployment HRV would be associated with higher post-deployment post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Three-hundred-forty-three Army National Guard soldiers enrolled in the Warriors Achieving Resilience (WAR) study were analyzed. The primary outcome was PTSD symptom severity using the PTSD Checklist - Military version (PCL) measured at baseline, 3- and 12-month post-deployment. Heart rate variability predictor variables included: high frequency power (HF) and standard deviation of the normal cardiac inter-beat interval (SDNN). Generalized linear mixed models revealed that the pre-deployment PCL*ln(HF) interaction term was significant (p<0.0001). Pre-deployment SDNN was not a significant predictor of post-deployment PCL. Covariates included age, pre-deployment PCL, race/ethnicity, marital status, tobacco use, childhood abuse, pre-deployment traumatic brain injury, and previous combat zone deployment. Pre-deployment heart rate variability predicts post-deployment PTSD symptoms in the context of higher pre-deployment PCL scores.

Keywords: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); combat stress; heart rate variability; longitudinal; military; prediction; risk factors.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Combat Disorders / complications
  • Combat Disorders / psychology*
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011
  • Linear Models
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Military Personnel / psychology*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology*
  • United States
  • Young Adult