The human heart normally exhibits robust beat-to-beat heart rate variability (HRV). The loss of this variability is associated with pathology, including disease states such as congestive heart failure (CHF). The effect of general anesthesia on intrinsic HRV is unknown. In this prospective, observational study we enrolled 100 human subjects having elective major surgical procedures under general anesthesia. We recorded continuous heart rate data via continuous electrocardiogram before, during, and after anesthesia, and we assessed HRV of the R-R intervals. We assessed HRV using several common metrics including Detrended Fluctuation Analysis (DFA), Multifractal Analysis, and Multiscale Entropy Analysis. Each of these analyses was done in each of the four clinical phases for each study subject over the course of 24 h: Before anesthesia, during anesthesia, early recovery, and late recovery. On average, we observed a loss of variability on the aforementioned metrics that appeared to correspond to the state of general anesthesia. Following the conclusion of anesthesia, most study subjects appeared to regain their normal HRV, although this did not occur immediately. The resumption of normal HRV was especially delayed on DFA. Qualitatively, the reduction in HRV under anesthesia appears similar to the reduction in HRV observed in CHF. These observations will need to be validated in future studies, and the broader clinical implications of these observations, if any, are unknown.
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