Heart Rate Variability for the Early Detection of Cardiac Autonomic Dysfunction in Type 1 Diabetes

Paolo Castiglioni*, Andrea Faini, Anika Nys, Renee De Busser, Martijn Scherrenberg, Esmee Baldussu, Gianfranco Parati, Paul Dendale

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

2 Citations (Web of Science)


Type 1 diabetes mellitus (T1DM) has an important impact on morbidity and mortality because it may start early in life. Therefore, the early detection of cardiovascular autonomic neuropathy (DCAN) in T1DM patients is important to intervene quickly and prevent further deterioration. Traditional autonomic function tests detect abnormalities in severely symptomatic patients but they are difficult to be standardized, require the patient's active participation and their sensitivity to the early disease is limited. In comparison, heart rate variability (HRV) is easier to be measured and standardized. Therefore, we aim to find the HRV indexes that better identify DCAN at an early stage in T1DM patients, and evaluate if HRV is a valid alternative to traditional tests. For this aim, we administered the SCOPA-AUT questionnaire on symptoms of autonomic dysfunction as well as deep breathing, Valsalva, handgrip, head-up tilt (HUT), and cold-pressor tests, to 52 T1DM patients and 27 controls. We calculated HRV indexes during supine rest (SUP) and HUT, assessing differences between groups and postures by a linear mixed-effect model for repeated measures. Receiver Operating Characteristic (ROC) analysis quantified how each HRV index and autonomic test distinguishes between patients and controls. We found that the SCOPA-AUT score was slightly but significantly (p < 0.05) greater in patients, indicating an early DCAN. T1DM patients preserved the HRV response to changing posture but in SUP they showed significantly lower standard deviation and vagal indexes of HRV than controls. The area under the ROC curve of these HRV indexes was not lower than 0.68. By contrast, traditional autonomic tests did not differ between groups. Therefore, early DCAN initially causes an impairment of the cardiac vagal control manifest in conditions of elevated vagal tone, as in SUP. Compensatory adjustments of the sympathetic control might explain the unaltered response to traditional autonomic tests. In conclusion, vagal HRV indexes in SUP help to identify early DCAN better than traditional tests, potentially allowing rapid interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number937701
Number of pages10
JournalFrontiers in physiology
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2022


  • heart rate variability
  • autonomic neuropathy
  • complexity
  • frequency-domain
  • entropy
  • self-similarity

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