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The high-frequency (HF) component of the heart rate variability (HRV) is regarded as an index of cardiac vagal responsiveness. However, when vagal tone is decreased, nonneural mechanisms could account for a significant proportion of the HF component. To test this hypothesis, we examined the HRV spectral power in 20 patients with mild chronic heart failure (CHF) and 11 controls before and during ganglion blockade with trimethaphan camsylate (3-6 mg/min iv). A small HF component was still present during ganglion blockade, and its amplitude did not differ between CHF patients and controls. The average contribution of nonneural oscillations to the HF component was 15% (range 1-77%) in patients with CHF and 3% (range 0. 7-30%) in healthy controls (P < 0.005). During controlled breathing at 0.16 Hz, however, it decreased to 1% (range 0.2-13%) in healthy controls and 5% (range 1-44%) in CHF patients. Our results indicate that the HF component can significantly overestimate cardiac vagal responsiveness in patients with mild CHF. This bias is improved by controlled breathing, since this maneuver increases the vagal contribution to HF without affecting its nonneural component.

Original publication




Journal article


Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol

Publication Date





H125 - H131


Arrhythmia, Sinus, Blood Pressure, Chronic Disease, Electrocardiography, Female, Ganglionic Blockers, Heart Failure, Heart Rate, Humans, Male, Middle Aged, Respiratory Mechanics, Vagus Nerve