Heart Rate Variability: Measurement and Clinical Utility


Address for reprints: J. Thomas Bigger, Jr., M.D., Columbia University, 630 West 168th Street, PH 9-103, New York, NY 10032. Fax: 212-305-7141; E-mail: jtb2@columbia.edu


Electrocardiographic RR intervals fluctuate cyclically, modulated by ventilation, baroreflexes, and other genetic and environmental factors that are mediated through the autonomic nervous system. Short term electrocardiographic recordings (5 to 15 minutes), made under controlled conditions, e.g., lying supine or standing or tilted upright can elucidate physiologic, pharmacologic, or pathologic changes in autonomic nervous system function. Long-term, usually 24-hour recordings, can be used to assess autonomic nervous responses during normal daily activities in health, disease, and in response to therapeutic interventions, e.g., exercise or drugs. RR interval variability is useful for assessing risk of cardiovascular death or arrhythmic events, especially when combined with other tests, e.g., left ventricular ejection fraction or ventricular arrhythmias.