Continuous multi-parameter heart rate variability analysis heralds onset of sepsis in adults

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Background: Early diagnosis of sepsis enables timely resuscitation and antibiotics and prevents subsequent morbidity and mortality. Clinical approaches relying on point-in-time analysis of vital signs or lab values are often insensitive, non-specific and late diagnostic markers of sepsis. Exploring otherwise hidden information within intervals-in-time, heart rate variability (HRV) has been documented to be both altered in the presence of sepsis, and correlated with its severity. We hypothesized that by continuously tracking individual patient HRV over time in patients as they develop sepsis, we would demonstrate reduced HRV in association with the onset of sepsis. Methodology/Principal Findings: We monitored heart rate continuously in adult bone marrow transplant (BMT) patients (n = 21) beginning a day before their BMT and continuing until recovery or withdrawal (12±4 days). We characterized HRV continuously over time with a panel of time, frequency, complexity, and scale-invariant domain techniques. We defined baseline HRV as mean variability for the first 24 h of monitoring and studied individual and population average percentage change (from baseline) over time in diverse HRV metrics, in comparison with the time of clinical diagnosis and treatment of sepsis (defined as systemic inflammatory response syndrome along with clinically suspected infection requiring treatment). Of the 21 patients enrolled, 4 patients withdrew, leaving 17 patients who completed the study. Fourteen patients developed sepsis requiring antibiotic therapy, whereas 3 did not. On average, for 12 out of 14 infected patients, a significant (25%) reduction prior to the clinical diagnosis and treatment of sepsis was observed in standard deviation, root mean square successive difference, sample and multiscale entropy, fast Fourier transform, detrended fluctuation analysis, and wavelet variability metrics. For infected patients (n = 14), wavelet HRV demonstrated a 25% drop from baseline 35 h prior to sepsis on average. For 3 out of 3 non-infected patients, all measures, except root mean square successive difference and entropy, showed no significant reduction. Significant correlation was present amongst these HRV metrics for the entire population. Conclusions/Significance: Continuous HRV monitoring is feasible in ambulatory patients, demonstrates significant HRV alteration in individual patients in association with, and prior to clinical diagnosis and treatment of sepsis, and merits further investigation as a means of providing early warning of sepsis. © 2009 Ahmad et al.




Ahmad, S., Ramsay, T., Huebsch, L., Flanagan, S., McDiarmid, S., Batkin, I., … Seely, A. J. E. (2009). Continuous multi-parameter heart rate variability analysis heralds onset of sepsis in adults. PLoS ONE, 4(8).

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