Variability in heart rate reflects the vagal and sympathetic function of the autonomic nervous system, and has been used as a monitoring tool in clinical conditions characterized by altered autonomic nervous system function (1). Spectral analysis of beat-to-beat variability is a simple, non-invasive technique to evaluate autonomic dysfunction (2).
Heart rate variability analysis has been used in the assessment of diabetic neuropathy and to predict the risk of arrhythmic events following myocardial infarction (3). The technique has also been used to investigate autonomic changes associated with neurotoxicity (4), physical exercise (5), anorexia nervosa (6), brain infarction (7), angina (8), and panic disorder (9).
Normative data on heart rate variability have been collected (10,11,12). This technology appears to hold promise for assessing overall fitness. Gallagher et al (13) compared age matched groups with different lifestyles. These were smokers, sedentary persons, and aerobically fit individuals. They found that smoking and a sedentary lifestyle reduces vagal tone, whereas enhanced aerobic fitness increases vagal tone. Dixon et al (14) reported that endurance training modifies heart rate control through neurocardiac mechanisms.
In occupational health, the effects of various stresses of the work environment of heart patients and asymptomatic workers may be evaluated using heart rate variability analysis (15).
Acquired dysautonomia is one of the three elements in the three dimensional model of vertebral subluxation (16). Skin temperature changes, reflecting alterations in vasomotor tone, are used clinically to assess autonomic changes associated with vertebral subluxations. Heart rate variability represents a promising, non-invasive technology to assess subluxation-related autonomic function.
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