Effects of heart rate variability biofeedback on cardiovascular responses and autonomic sympathovagal modulation following stressor tasks in prehypertensives

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Abstract

Autonomic dysfunction is implicated in prehypertension, and previous studies have suggested that therapies that improve modulation of sympathovagal balance, such as biofeedback and slow abdominal breathing, are effective in patients with prehypertension at rest. However, considering that psychophysiological stressors may be associated with greater cardiovascular risk in prehypertensives, it is important to investigate whether heart rate variability biofeedback (HRV-BF) results in equivalent effects on autonomic cardiovascular responses control during stressful conditions in prehypertensives. A total of 32 college students with prehypertension were enrolled and randomly assigned to HRV-BF (n = 12), slow abdominal breathing (SAB, n = 10) or no treatment (control, n = 10) groups. Then, a training experiment consisting of 15 sessions was employed to compare the effect of each intervention on the following cardiovascular response indicators before and after intervention: heart rate (HR); heart rate variability (HRV) components; blood volume pulse amplitude (BVPamp); galvanic skin response; respiration rate (RSP); and blood pressure. In addition, the cold pressor test and the mental arithmetic challenge test were also performed over two successive days before and after the invention as well as after 3 months of follow-up. A significant decrease in HR and RSP and a significant increase in BVPamp were observed after the HRV-BF intervention (P<0.001). For the HRV analysis, HRV-BF significantly reduced the ratio of low-frequency power to high-frequency power (the LF/HF ratio, P<0.001) and increased the normalized high-frequency power (HFnm) (P<0.001) during the stress tests, and an added benefit over SAB by improving HRV was also observed. In the 3-month follow-up study, similar effects on RSP, BVPamp, LF/HF and HFnm were observed in the HRV-BF group compared with the SAB group. HRV-BF training contributes to the beneficial effect of reducing the stress-related cardiovascular response in prehypertensives by improving autonomic sympathovagal modulation.

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