Heart rate variability in patients with atrial fibrillation is related to vagal tone

M.P van den Berg, J. Haaksma, Jolijn Brouwer, R.G Tieleman, G. Mulder, H.J G M Crijns

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Background Analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) has thus far not been applied in patients with atrial fibrillation, probably because of the presumed absence of any form of patterning of the ventricular rhythm, particularly vagally mediated respiratory arrhythmia. However, such patterning is theoretically conceivable given the function of the atrioventricular node in atrial fibrillation and its susceptibility to autonomic influences.

Methods and Results Sixteen patients (mean age, 56 +/- 4 years) with long-term atrial fibrillation on fixed doses of digoxin or verapamil were studied; 12 healthy men in sinus rhythm were used as control subjects. HRV (standard deviation of RR intervals [SD], coefficient of variance [CV], the root-mean-square of successive difference [RMSSD], and low-frequency [LF] and high-frequency power [HF]) was analyzed during 500 RR intervals at baseline, after administration of propranolol (0.2 mg/kg IV), and after subsequent administration of methylatropine (0.02 mg/kg IV). HRV at baseline and changes in HRV after methylatropine were then related to vagal tone (vagal cardiac control), quantified as the decrease in mean RR after methylatropine. Baseline HRV was higher in the atrial fibrillation group than in the control group; after propranolol, HRV increased in both groups; after methylatropine, HRV neared zero in the control group, whereas it returned to baseline values in the atrial fibrillation group. SD, RMSSD, LF, and HF at baseline were significantly (P <.05) correlated with vagal tone in the control group but also in the atrial fibrillation group (correlation coefficients of .60, .61, .57, and .64, respectively). Even stronger correlations were observed between changes in these parameters after methylatropine and vagal tone, particularly in the atrial fibrillation group (correlation coefficients of .89, .87, .72, and .90, respectively).

Conclusions This study shows that HRV in patients with atrial fibrillation is related to vagal tone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1209-1216
Number of pages8
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 19-Aug-1997


  • fibrillation
  • atrioventricular node
  • heart rate
  • nervous system, autonomic

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