The reliability of short-term measurement of heart rate variability during spontaneous breathing in people with COPD

Reduced heart rate variability (HRV), a marker of autonomic system dysfunction, has been reported in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Yet, limited data exists on the reliability of HRV measurement in this population. Here we investigated the reliability of short-term HRV measurement performed during spontaneous breathing in patients with COPD.

Thirteen individuals (8 males) with moderate-to-severe COPD (FEV1 46±16% predicted; FEV1/FVC 49±13) underwent standard time and frequency domain HRV measurements derived from 5-minute electrocardiograms collected on two separate days using a SphygmoCor device. Absolute and relative reliability was assessed by a number of coefficients including within-subject random variation, systematic change in the mean, and retest correlations.

Within-subject coefficients of variation (CV) ranged from 4.3% to 193.4%. The intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs) ranged from 0.72 to 0.93 for parameters related to overall HRV, and from 0.57 to 0.59 for those related to parasympathetic tone in both time and frequency domains. Mean heart rate was the only parameter that showed excellent absolute and relative reliability (CV=4.3%, ICC=0.93).

The HRV measurements showed overall moderate-to-substantial reliability during spontaneous breathing in COPD population. Our findings support the use of HRV parameters for diagnosis and cardiac risk assessment, but only mean heart rate can be used reliably for monitoring changes in autonomic status following rehabilitation intervention in this population.