Aim: The aim of this study was to investigate heart rate variability (HRV) in a clinical sample of female adolescents with anxiety disorders (AD) and/or major depressive disorder (MDD) compared with healthy controls and to assess the effect of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) on HRV.
Methods: Heart rate variability was measured in adolescent female psychiatric patients with AD and/or MDD (n = 69), mean age 16.8 years (range: 14.5–18.4), from 13 out-patient clinics and in healthy controls (n = 65), mean age 16.5 years (range: 15.9–17.7). HRV was registered in the sitting position during 4 min with no interventions.
Results: Logarithmically transformed high frequency HRV (HF), low frequency HRV (LF) and standard deviation of inter beat intervals (SDNN) were lower in the clinical sample compared with the controls (Cohen’s d for HF = 0.57, LF = 0.55, SDNN = 0.60). This was not explained by body mass index, blood pressure or physical activity. Medication with SSRI explained 15.5% of the total variance of HF, 3.0% of LF and 6.5% of SDNN.
Conclusions: Adolescent female psychiatric patients with AD and/or MDD show reduced HRV compared with healthy controls. Medication with SSRI explained a part of this difference.