We performed a systematic and meta analytic review of heart rate variability biofeedback (HRVB) for various symptoms and human functioning. We analyzed all problems addressed by HRVB and all outcome measures in all studies, whether or not relevant to the studied population, among randomly controlled studies. Targets included various biological and psychological problems and issues with athletic, cognitive, and artistic performance. Our initial review yielded 1868 papers, from which 58 met inclusion criteria. A significant small to moderate effect size was found favoring HRVB, which does not differ from that of other effective treatments. With a small number of studies for each, HRVB has the largest effect sizes for anxiety, depression, anger and athletic/artistic performance and the smallest effect sizes on PTSD, sleep and quality of life. We found no significant differences for number of treatment sessions or weeks between pretest and post-test, whether the outcome measure was targeted to the population, or year of publication. Effect sizes are larger in comparison to inactive than active control conditions although significant for both. HRVB improves symptoms and functioning in many areas, both in the normal and pathological ranges. It appears useful as a complementary treatment. Further research is needed to confirm its efficacy for particular applications.
Keywords: Applied physiology; Disease; Emotional dysregulation; Performance; Rehabilitation.