Heart rate variability biofeedback as a behavioral neurocardiac intervention to enhance vagal heart rate control
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BACKGROUND: Patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) who experience depressed mood or psychological stress exhibit decreased vagal control of heart rate (HR), as assessed by spectral analysis of HR variability (HRV). Myocardial infarction and sudden cardiac death are independently associated with depression and stress, as well as impaired vagal HR control. This study examined whether a behavioral neurocardiac intervention to reduce stress or depression can augment cardiovagal modulation in CHD patients. We hypothesized that (1) cognitive-behavioral training with HRV biofeedback would augment vagal recovery from acute stress, and (2) vagal regulation of HR would be inversely associated with stress and depression after treatment. METHODS: This randomized controlled trial enrolled 46 CHD patients from 3 clinics of CHD risk reduction in Toronto and Vancouver, Canada. Subjects were randomized to five 1.5-hour sessions of HRV biofeedback or an active control condition. Outcome was assessed by absolute and normalized high-frequency spectral components (0.15-0.50 Hz) of HRV, and by the Perceived Stress Scale and Centre for Epidemiologic Studies in Depression scale. RESULTS: Both groups reduced symptoms on the Perceived Stress Scale (P = .001) and Centre for Epidemiologic Studies in Depression scale (P = .004). Hierarchical linear regression determined that improved psychological adjustment was significantly associated with the high-frequency index of vagal HR modulation only in the HRV biofeedback group. Adjusted R 2 was as follows: HRV biofeedback group, 0.86 for stress (P = .02) and 0.81 for depression (P = .03); versus the active control group, 0.04 (P = .57) and 0.13 (P = .95), respectively. CONCLUSION: A novel behavioral neurocardiac intervention, HRV biofeedback, can augment vagal HR regulation while facilitating psychological adjustment to CHD.
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