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A paradox regarding the classic power spectral analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) is whether the characteristic high- (HF) and low-frequency (LF) spectral peaks represent stochastic or chaotic phenomena. Resolution of this fundamental issue is key to unraveling the mechanisms of HRV, which is critical to its proper use as a noninvasive marker for cardiac mortality risk assessment and stratification in congestive heart failure (CHF) and other cardiac dysfunctions. However, conventional techniques of nonlinear time series analysis generally lack sufficient sensitivity, specificity and robustness to discriminate chaos from random noise, much less quantify the chaos level. Here, we apply a ‘litmus test’ for heartbeat chaos based on a novel noise titration assay which affords a robust, specific, time-resolved and quantitative measure of the relative chaos level. Noise titration of running short-segment Holter tachograms from healthy subjects revealed circadian-dependent (or sleep/wake-dependent) heartbeat chaos that was linked to the HF component (respiratory sinus arrhythmia). The relative ‘HF chaos’ levels were similar in young and elderly subjects despite proportional age-related decreases in HF and LF power. In contrast, the near-regular heartbeat in CHF patients was primarily nonchaotic except punctuated by undetected ectopic beats and other abnormal beats, causing transient chaos. Such profound circadian-, age- and CHF-dependent changes in the chaotic and spectral characteristics of HRV were accompanied by little changes in approximate entropy, a measure of signal irregularity. The salient chaotic signatures of HRV in these subject groups reveal distinct autonomic, cardiac, respiratory and circadian/sleep-wake mechanisms that distinguish health and aging from CHF.
Copyright: © 2009 Wu et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
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VCU Medical Center Publications