Heart rate variability characteristics of patients with irritable bowel syndrome and associations with symptoms

Polster A1, Friberg P2, Gunterberg V1, Öhman L3, Le Nevé B4, Törnblom H1, Cvijovic M5, Simren M1,6. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2018 Mar 25:e13320. doi: 10.1111/nmo.13320. [Epub ahead of print]

Author information

1 Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Nutrition, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Göteborg, Sweden.

2 Department of Molecular and Clinical Medicine, Sahlgrenska Academy at Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden.

3 Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden.

4 Danone Nutricia Research, Palaiseau, France.

5 Department of Mathematical Sciences, Chalmers University of Technology and Göteborg University, Göteborg, Sweden.

6 Center for Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA.


BACKGROUND: Disturbed brain-gut interactions are assumed to be of importance for symptom generation in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is part of the bidirectional brain-gut communication, but previous studies in IBS show diverging results. We aimed to identify subgroups of IBS patients with distinct ANS characteristics differentiating them from healthy controls (HC), and to study associations between ANS status and symptoms.

METHODS: Heart rate variability (HRV) was measured in IBS patients and HC (Holter monitoring: supine and standing positions with controlled respiration and ambulatory 24-hour period). Frequency (5 minutes, supine, standing) and time domains (24 hours, day, night) were analyzed. Validated questionnaires were used to measure gastrointestinal and psychological symptoms in patients. Patients and HC were compared on a univariate and multivariate level (principal component analysis [PCA] and orthogonal partial least squares discriminatory analysis (OPLS-DA)).

KEY RESULTS: We analyzed 158 IBS patients (Rome III) and 39 HC. Patients differed significantly from HC in HRV parameters during daytime and in standing position. In the PCA, a majority of patients overlapped with HC, but the weighted means differed (P < .01). A subset of patients (n = 30; 19%) with an aberrant global HRV profile was identified through PCA and OPLS-DA; these patients reported more severe symptoms of frequent (P < .05) and loose stools (P = .03), as well as urgency (P = .01).

CONCLUSIONS AND INFERENCES: Altered ANS function was demonstrated in patients with IBS, and this might be of particular relevance for symptoms in a subset of the patients.

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