Heart rate variability: implications for perioperative anesthesia care

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Purpose of review

Heart rate variability (HRV) is a measure of the balance between both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system and may provide useful information for anesthesia care providers. HRV may offer predictive information about critically ill and operative patients. Further, HRV collection provides real-time information of patient autonomic nervous system status and may allow tailoring of the analgesia for patients in the ICU and operating room.

Recent findings

Reduced and abnormal resting HRV predict sudden and nonsudden cardiac death. Recent evidence shows that decreased HRV correlates with worsened outcomes in both trauma patients and patients with sepsis, as well as the risk of developing hypotension after induction of general anesthesia and placement of intrathecal local anesthesia. In addition, HRV appears to provide an accurate assessment of the nociception–analgesia balance in deeply sedated ICU patients and those under general anesthesia.


No study has assessed the prognostic value of preoperative HRV in patients presenting for surgery. Use of HRV for patient risk stratification and intraoperative analgesia management may allow tailored perioperative care and improved outcomes. If intraoperative HRV data leads to decreased perioperative opioid use, opioid-related adverse events, a serious perioperative issue, may be decreased.

Clinical Trials Registration

Not applicable

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