Cardiovascular Autonomic Function Tests in Patients of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study

Indian J Psychol Med. 2022 Jan;44(1):30-36. doi: 10.1177/02537176211042805. Epub 2021 Nov 15.


Background: Patients with psychiatric disorders are at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, reducing life expectancy. Autonomic dysfunction has been linked to this increased risk; many studies have found reductions in heart rate variability (HRV). Only a few studies have systematically explored the relationship between obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autonomic function, and they have found contradicting results. The present study is intended to explore comprehensive autonomic functions in OCD patients and compare them with healthy controls.

Methods: A total of 18 OCD patients meeting Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - 5 (DSM-5) criteria were enrolled to undergo comprehensive autonomic function testing, and the results were compared with 25 age- and sex-matched healthy controls.

Results: Time-domain parameters of HRV such as standard deviation of the RR intervals, coefficient of variance of RR intervals, standard deviation of differences between adjacent RR intervals, root square of the mean of the sum of the squares of differences between adjacent RR intervals, and percentage of number of RR interval differences ≥ 50 ms were significantly lower in OCD patients, indicating lesser parasympathetic tone. Frequency-domain parameters such as total power and very low frequency were significantly lower in OCD patients, indicating a significant decrease in autonomic tone. Nonlinear parameters such as dispersion of points perpendicular to the line of identity and dispersion of points along the line of identity were significantly lower in OCD patients, indicating altered vagal and sympathetic tone. In autonomic reactivity tests, the fall in systolic blood pressure during the lying to standing test and change in diastolic blood pressure during the cold pressor test were significantly altered in OCD patients, indicating abnormal sympathetic reactivity. There was no significant correlation between autonomic parameters and the severity of OCD.

Conclusion: OCD is characterized by a decreased parasympathetic tone and abnormal sympathetic reactivity compared to normal controls.

Keywords: Autonomic function test; OCD; electrophysiology; heart rate variability.