A meta-analysis of heart rate variability in major depression

Psychol Med. 2019 Sep;49(12):1948-1957. doi: 10.1017/S0033291719001351. Epub 2019 Jun 26.


Background: Major depression (MD) is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Reduced heart rate variability (HRV) has been observed in MD. Given the predictive value of HRV for cardiovascular health, reduced HRV might be one physiological factor that mediates this association.

Methods: The purpose of this study was to provide up-to-date random-effects meta-analyses of studies which compare resting-state measures of HRV between unmedicated adults with MD and controls. Database search considered English and German literature to July 2018.

Results: A total of 21 studies including 2250 patients and 1982 controls were extracted. Significant differences between patients and controls were found for (i) frequency domains such as HF-HRV [Hedges' g = -0.318; 95% CI (-0.388 to -0.247)], LF-HRV (Hedges' g = -0.195; 95% CI (-0.332 to -0.059)], LF/HF-HRV (Hedges' g = 0.195; 95% CI (0.086-0.303)] and VLF-HRV (Hedges' g = -0.096; 95% CI (-0.179 to -0.013)), and for (ii) time-domains such as IBI (Hedges' g = -0.163; 95% CI (-0.304 to -0.022)], RMSSD (Hedges' g = -0.462; 95% CI (-0.612 to -0.312)] and SDNN (Hedges' g = -0.266; 95% CI (-0.431 to -0.100)].

Conclusions: Our findings demonstrate that all HRV-measures were lower in MD than in healthy controls and thus strengthens evidence for lower HRV as a potential cardiovascular risk factor in these patients.

Keywords: Cardiovascular; depression; heart rate variability.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / physiopathology*
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Factors