Purpose: Resting heart rate variability (HRV) is an important biomarker linking mental health to cardiovascular outcomes. However, resting HRV is also impaired in autonomic neuropathy, a common and underdiagnosed complication of common medical conditions which is detected by testing autonomic reflexes. We sought to describe the relationship between autonomic reflex abnormalities and resting HRV, taking into consideration medical comorbidities and demographic variables. Methods: Participants (n = 209) underwent a standardized autonomic reflex screen which was summarized as the Composite Autonomic Severity Score (CASS) and included measures of reflexive HRV, e.g., heart rate with deep breathing (HRDB). Resting HRV measures were: pNN50 (percentage of NN intervals that differ by > 50 ms) and cvRMSSD (adjusted root mean square of successive differences). Results: In univariate analyses, lower resting HRV was associated with: older age, higher CASS, neuropathy on examination, hypertension, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, and psychiatric disease. Adaptive regression spline analysis revealed that HRDB explained 27% of the variability in resting HRV for participants with values of HRDB in the normal range. Outside this range, there was no linear relationship because: (1) when HRDB was low (indicating autonomic neuropathy), resting HRV was also low with low variance; and (2) when HRDB was high, the variance in resting HRV was high. In multivariate models, only HRDB was significantly independently associated with cvRMSSD and pNN50. Conclusion: Subclinical autonomic neuropathy, as evidenced by low HRDB and other autonomic reflexes, should be considered as a potential confounder of resting HRV in research involving medically and demographically diverse populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-184
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Autonomic Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Autonomic function
  • CASS
  • Composite autonomic severity score
  • Heart rate variability
  • Neuropathy
  • Neurovisceral integration


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