Association between respiratory and heart rate fluctuations and death occurrence in dying cancer patients: continuous measurement with a non-wearable monitor

Support Care Cancer. 2022 Jan;30(1):77-86. doi: 10.1007/s00520-021-06346-y. Epub 2021 Jul 7.


Background: The present study aimed to explore the association between impending death and continual changes in respiratory and heart rates measured using a non-wearable monitor every minute for the final 2 weeks of life in dying cancer patients.

Methods: In this longitudinal study, we enrolled patients in a palliative care unit and continuously measured their respiratory and heart rates via a monitor and additionally captured their other vital signs and clinical status from medical records.

Result: A dataset was created comprising every 24-h data collected from every-minute raw data, including information from 240 days prior to death from 24 patients (345,600 data); each patient's data were measured for 3-14 days until death. After confirming the associations between the respiratory and heat rate values on the day of death (n = 24) or other days (2-14 days before death, n = 216) and the mean, maximum, minimum, and variance of respiratory and heart rates every 24 h by univariate analyses, we conducted a repeated-measures logistic regression analysis using a generalized estimating equation. Finally, the maximum respiratory rate and mean heart rate were significantly associated with death occurring within the following 3 days (0-24 h, 0-48 h, and 0-72 h), except for the maximum respiratory rate that occurs within 0-24 h.

Conclusion: The maximum respiratory rate and mean heart rate measured every minute using a monitor can warn family caregivers and care staff, with the support of palliative care professionals, of imminent death among dying patients at home or other facilities.

Keywords: Cancer; Death; Heart rate; Monitoring device; Non-wearable; Respiratory rate.

MeSH terms

  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Neoplasms*
  • Respiratory Rate*