What is Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Why We Use it As Diagnostics

What is HRV?

Although we measure pulse by heartbeats per minute, the rythm of our heart is not always a steady one. A pulse of 60 does not mean that your most important organ in the circulatory system dictates a beat per second. It’s more likely that the time between the first and second heartbeat is not exactly equal to the time between the second and third beats, third and fourth, fourth and fifth and so on. The slight differences between these intervals are what constitute a Heart Rate Variability measure. This type of measurement can be a useful diagnostics tool, as it sometimes acts as a predictor of heart related medical conditions, but also other possible health concerns.

What is the normal HRV value?

Heart Rate Variability is calculated using a score from 0 to 100. Lower scores show that there is a low variation between heartbeats, and therefore the heart is beating at a steady pace. Higher scores show that there is more variation in the rhythm of the heartbeats. A person not familiar with cardiology tests would probably be inclined to think that a steady rhythm and a lower HRV score are a proof of good health. In fact, that is not the case, as according to the Harvard Health Blog, low scores show that the organism is less able to adapt and can even be a sign of depression. At the same time, a higher score shows more flexibility in dealing with external and internal stimuli, like strong emotions.

The HRV score decreases with age and it also varies depending on individual factors such as genetics, lifestyle, diet etc. Taking all that into account, the average HRV is 59.30, according to measurements on over a million users of the Elite HRV app.

What health issues are connected to a low HRV?

According to a report published by the University of Wisconsin Madison, low HRV is correlated with increased all-cause mortality and a range of non-cardiac disorders including diabetes, fibromyalgia, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, anxiety, depression, and PTSD. The same report states that individuals with high resting HRV recover quickly and function at a higher level.

Moreover, low HRV is bad news in patients recovering from heart attacks, as it can be a precursor of sudden cardiac death.

While higher HRV scores are a sign of good health, if they go over a certain level, they could also suggest there is a problem with the heart, such as arrythmia.

How can I track my HRV?

HRV can be measured on the results of an EKG, but there are also other tools available for non-specialists. Portable heart monitors, easy to strap onto the chest, designed mostly for runners, are available all around the internet, for prices usually around $100 or less. To analyse the data, you can download an app, such as the one we mentioned earlier: Elite HRV.

Please take the results with a grain of salt, as, in the absence of other diagnostics tools to corroborate the results, your HRV score may or may not be 100% relevant. If you have any concerns, it may be better to consult with a local physician. Our team at GSMG is highly specialized in cardiovascular health and will be more than happy to help you.

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