Summary: Purpose: To elucidate possible effect of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) therapy on interictal heart rate (HR) variability in patients with refractory epilepsy before and after 1-year VNS treatment.
Methods: A 24-hour electrocardiogram (ECG) was recorded at the baseline and after 12 months of VNS treatment in 14 patients with refractory epilepsy, and once in 28 healthy age- and sex-matched control subjects. Time and frequency domain measures, along with fractal and complexity measures of HR variability, were analyzed from the ECG recordings.
Results: The mean value of the RR interval (p = 0.008), standard deviation of N-N intervals (SDNN) (p < 0.001), very-low frequency (VLF) (p < 0.001), low-frequency (LF) (p = 0.001), and high-frequency (HF) (p = 0.002) spectral components of HR variability, and the Poincaré components SD1 (p = 0.005) and SD2 (p < 0.001) of the patients with refractory epilepsy were significantly lower than those of the control subjects before VNS implantation. The nocturnal increase in HR variability usually seen in the normal population was absent in patients with refractory epilepsy. VNS had no significant effects on any of the HR-variability indexes despite a significant reduction in the frequency of seizures.
Conclusions: HR variability was reduced, and the nocturnal increase in HR variability was not present in patients with refractory epilepsy. One-year treatment with VNS did not have a marked effect on HR variability, suggesting that impaired cardiovascular autonomic regulation is associated with the epileptic process itself rather than with recurrent seizures.