Assessing Heart Rate Variability As a Surrogate Measure of Cardiac Autonomic Function in Chronic Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury
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Background: Although cardiac autonomic dysfunction is a contributing factor for cardiovascular disease development in individuals with a spinal cord injury (SCI), it remains poorly understood. Heart rate variability (HRV) analysis has the potential to non-invasively assess the cardiac autonomic nervous system. The study objectives are (a) to determine if there are differences in HRV measures across neurological level of impairment (NLI) and American Spinal Cord Injury Association Impairment Scale (AIS) subgroups, and (b) to determine if there is a relationship between HRV frequency measures (low frequency [LF] and high frequency [HF]) at rest. Methods: We conducted a secondary data analysis of a primary data set from a published cross-sectional study of electrocardiogram recordings of 56 subjects (44 men and 12 women, mean age ± SD = 46.75 ± 12.44 years) with a chronic traumatic SCI (C1-T12, AIS A-D, ≥2 years post injury). HRV was analyzed using time and frequency domain measures. Results: There were no significant HRV differences across NLI and AIS subgroups. The LF and HF indices were positively correlated in the entire sample (r = 0.708, p < .0001) and among impairment subgroups. Conclusion: No differences were observed in the HRV time and frequency measures when compared across NLI and AIS subgroups. The results were considered inconclusive, since possible explanations include inadequate sample size as well as other physiological considerations. A positive correlation was found between LF and HF when assessed at rest. The relationship between LF and HF may not necessarily represent a rebalanced autonomic nervous system, but it does question the utility of solely measuring LF:HF at rest in persons with chronic SCI.
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