Sympathovagal interaction during mental stress a study using spectral analysis of heart rate variability in healthy control subjects and patients with a prior myocardial infarction

Massimo Pagani, Giorgio Mazzuero, Antonella Ferrari, Diego Liberati, Sergio Cerutti, Dieter Vaitl, Luigi Tavazzi, Alberto Malliani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We tested the hypothesis that psychological stress testing in the clinical laboratory provokes changes in the sympathetic and vagal activities regulating heart rate that can be assessed noninvasively using spectral analysis of RR variability. To account for the effects on respiration produced by talking, this study was performed with two different procedures: the I.K.T. (i.e., a computer-controlled mental task that is performed in silence and does not entail human confrontation) and a stressful interview. Finally, we assessed whether ischemic heart disease modifies the spectral changes induced by psychological stress by comparing a group of healthy subjects (age, 38±2 years) with a group of patients (age, 52±3 years) recovering from 1-month-old myocardial infarctions. The findings indicate that psychological stress induced marked changes in the sympathovagal balance, which moved toward sympathetic predominance. The low-frequency component of RR variability, a marker of sympathetic activity, increased from 58±5 normalized units (NU) to 68±3 NU with the I.K.T. and to 76±3 NU with the interview. This increase was absent in the group of post-myocardial infarction patients. However, arterial pressure increased significantly in both groups of subjects. The possibility of age playing an important role in determining the differences observed was disproved by the findings of a marked increase in low frequency with mental stimuli in an additional group of borderline hypertensive subjects with ages (55±2 years) comparable to those of post myocardial infarction patients.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCirculation
Volume83
Issue number4 SUPPL.
Publication statusPublished - 1991

Keywords

  • Handgrip
  • Sympathetic activity
  • Tilt
  • Vagal activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine

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