Alterations in Heart Rate Variability Associated With Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Clin Transl Gastroenterol. 2020 Dec 18;12(1):e00275. doi: 10.14309/ctg.0000000000000275.

Adam Sadowski 1, Corina Dunlap, Alison Lacombe, Douglas Hanes


Author information

  • 1Helfgott Research Institute, National University of Natural Medicine, Portland, Oregon, USA.


Introduction: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are gastrointestinal pathologies affecting large numbers of the global population and incurring significant healthcare costs. Disruptions in the gut-brain axis occurring in these conditions can lead to increased inflammation, affecting gastrointestinal and autonomic nervous system function. Heart rate variability (HRV) is commonly used to assess the state of the sympathetic and parasympathetic function of the autonomic nervous system, but it remains unclear how HRV measures are associated with gastrointestinal pathologies. Here, we conduct a systematic review of the literature comparing HRV of subjects diagnosed with IBS or IBD to HRV in healthy controls (HC).

Methods: We searched PubMed, Cochrane Library, and CINAHL (EBSCO) for eligible studies up to 2018. We included any study comparing a recognized measure of HRV between a group of patients with either IBS or IBD to a group of matched HC before any intervention. Studies were screened, and data were extracted from included articles using predefined criteria. Random effects meta-analysis was performed for each outcome, with effect size reported as the standardized mean difference.

Results: There were significant differences between IBD and HC in time domain HRV and significant decreases in high-frequency power measures were also noted, in both IBS and IBD compared with HC.

Discussion: Parasympathetic nervous system activity, represented through high-frequency power, seems to be lower in people with IBS and IBD, but conclusions are limited by the small number of studies that provide usable data, methodological heterogeneity, and high risks of bias in primary study methods and measures.

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