Heart rate variability characteristics of patients with irritable bowel syndrome and associations with symptoms
Journal article, 2018

Background: Disturbed brain-gut interactions are assumed to be of importance for symptom generation in patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is part of the bidirectional brain-gut communication, but previous studies in IBS show diverging results. We aimed to identify subgroups of IBS patients with distinct ANS characteristics differentiating them from healthy controls (HC), and to study associations between ANS status and symptoms. Methods: Heart rate variability (HRV) was measured in IBS patients and HC (Holter monitoring: supine and standing positions with controlled respiration and ambulatory 24-hour period). Frequency (5 minutes, supine, standing) and time domains (24 hours, day, night) were analyzed. Validated questionnaires were used to measure gastrointestinal and psychological symptoms in patients. Patients and HC were compared on a univariate and multivariate level (principal component analysis [PCA] and orthogonal partial least squares discriminatory analysis (OPLS-DA)). Key Results: We analyzed 158 IBS patients (Rome III) and 39 HC. Patients differed significantly from HC in HRV parameters during daytime and in standing position. In the PCA, a majority of patients overlapped with HC, but the weighted means differed (P <.01). A subset of patients (n = 30; 19%) with an aberrant global HRV profile was identified through PCA and OPLS-DA; these patients reported more severe symptoms of frequent (P <.05) and loose stools (P =.03), as well as urgency (P =.01). Conclusions and Inferences: Altered ANS function was demonstrated in patients with IBS, and this might be of particular relevance for symptoms in a subset of the patients.

multivariate analysis

brain-gut axis

heart rate variability

autonomic nervous system

irritable bowel syndrome


A. Polster

Sahlgrenska University Hospital

P. Friberg

University of Gothenburg

V. Gunterberg

Sahlgrenska University Hospital

L. Öhman

University of Gothenburg

B. Le Nevé

Groupe Danone

H. Törnblom

Sahlgrenska University Hospital

Marija Cvijovic

Chalmers, Mathematical Sciences, Applied Mathematics and Statistics

M. Simren

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Sahlgrenska University Hospital

Neurogastroenterology and Motility

1350-1925 (ISSN)

Vol. 30 7 e13320

Subject Categories

General Practice

Gastroenterology and Hepatology

Cardiac and Cardiovascular Systems



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