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Sympathetic and parasympathetic activity was evaluated on 39 occasions in 17 patients with the sepsis syndrome, by measurement of the variation in resting heart rate using frequency spectrum analysis. Heart rate was recorded by electrocardiography and respiratory rate by impedance plethysmography. The sepsis syndrome was established on the basis of established clinical and physiological criteria. Subjects were studied, whenever possible, during the period of sepsis and during recovery. Spectral density of the beat-to-beat heart rate was measured within the low frequency band 0.04 to 0.10 Hz (low frequency power, LFP) modulated by sympathetic and parasympathetic activity, and within a 0.12 Hz band width at the respiratory frequency mode (respiratory frequency power, RFP) modulated by parasympathetic activity. Results were expressed as the total variability (total area beneath the power spectrum), as the spectral components normalized to the total power (LFPn, RFPn) or as the ratio of LFP/RFP. During the sepsis syndrome, total heart rate variability and the sympathetically mediated component, LFPn were significantly lower than during the following recovery phase (ANOVA, p < 0.0001, p < 0.01 respectively). Both APACHE II (Acute Physiological and Chronic Health Evaluation) and TISS (Therapeutic Intervention Scoring System) scores showed an inverse correlation with total heart rate variability, logLFP, LFPn and the LFP/RFP ratio (p < 0.002 to 0.0001). Sympathetically mediated heart rate variability was significantly lower during the sepsis syndrome and was inversely proportional to disease severity.


Journal article


Clin Auton Res

Publication Date





5 - 13


Adult, Aged, Aged, 80 and over, Electrocardiography, Electrodes, Female, Heart Rate, Humans, Hypnotics and Sedatives, Male, Middle Aged, Parasympathetic Nervous System, Plethysmography, Impedance, Receptors, Adrenergic, beta, Respiration, Shock, Septic, Sympathetic Nervous System