Sex and family history of cardiovascular disease influence heart rate variability during stress among healthy adults

Publication date: July 2018
Source:Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Volume 110
Author(s): Charles F. Emery, Catherine M. Stoney, Julian F. Thayer, DeWayne Williams, Andrew Bodine
ObjectiveStudies of sex differences in heart rate variability (HRV) typically have not accounted for the influence of family history (FH) of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This study evaluated sex differences in HRV response to speech stress among men and women (age range 30–49 years) with and without a documented FH of CVD.MethodsParticipants were 77 adults (mean age = 39.8 ± 6.2 years; range: 30–49 years; 52% female) with positive FH (FH+, n = 32) and negative FH (FH−, n = 45) of CVD, verified with relatives of participants. Cardiac activity for all participants was recorded via electrocardiogram during a standardized speech stress task with three phases: 5-minute rest, 5-minute speech, and 5-minute recovery. Outcomes included time domain and frequency domain indicators of HRV and heart rate (HR) at rest and during stress. Data were analyzed with repeated measures analysis of variance, with sex and FH as between subject variables and time/phase as a within subject variable.ResultsWomen exhibited higher HR than did men and greater HR reactivity in response to the speech stress. However, women also exhibited greater HRV in both the time and frequency domains. FH+ women generally exhibited elevated HRV, despite the elevated risk of CVD associated with FH+.ConclusionsAlthough women participants exhibited higher HR at rest and during stress, women (both FH+ and FH−) also exhibited elevated HRV reactivity, reflecting greater autonomic control. Thus, enhanced autonomic function observed in prior studies of HRV among women is also evident among FH+ women during a standardized stress task.