Heart Rate Variability

Eur J Appl Physiol. 2007 Nov;101(4):495-502. Epub 2007 Aug 3.

Short-term effects of pulsed electromagnetic fields after physical exercise are dependent on autonomic tone before exposure.

Grote V, Lackner H, Kelz C, Trapp M, Aichinger F, Puff H, Moser M.

Institute of Noninvasive Diagnosis, JOANNEUM RESEARCH, Weiz, Austria.


The therapeutic application of pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMFs) can accelerate healing after bone fractures and also alleviate pain according to several studies. However, no objective criteria have been available to ensure appropriate magnetic field strength or type of electromagnetic field. Moreover, few studies so far have investigated the physical principles responsible for the impact of electromagnetic fields on the human body. Existing studies have shown that PEMFs influence cell activity, the autonomic nervous system and the blood flow. The aim of this study is to examine the instantaneous and short-term effects of a PEMF therapy and to measure the impact of different electromagnetic field strengths on a range of physiological parameters, especially the autonomic nervous systems, determined by heart rate variability (HRV) as well as their influence on subjects’ general feeling of well-being. The study comprised experimental, double-blind laboratory tests during which 32 healthy male adults (age: 38.4+/-6.5 years) underwent four physical stress tests at standardised times followed by exposure to pulsed magnetic fields of varying intensity [HPM, High Performance magnetic field; Leotec; pulsed signal; mean intensity increase: zero (placebo), 0.005, 0.03 and 0.09 T/s]. Exposure to electromagnetic fields after standardised physical effort significantly affected the very low frequency power spectral components of HRV (VLF; an indicator for sympathetically controlled blood flow rhythms). Compared to placebo treatment, exposure to 0.005 T/s resulted in accelerated recovery after physical strain. Subjects with lower baseline VLF power recovered more quickly than subjects with higher VLF when exposed to higher magnetic field strengths. The application of electromagnetic fields had no effect on subjects’ general feeling of well-being. Once the magnetic field exposure was stopped, the described effects quickly subsided. PEMF exposure has a short-term dosage-dependent impact on healthy subjects. Exposure to PEMF for 20 min resulted in more rapid recovery of heart rate variability, especially in the very low frequency range after physical strain. The study also showed the moderating influence of the subjects’ constitutional VLF power on their response to PEMF treatment. These findings have since been replicated in a clinical study and should be taken into consideration when PEMF treatment is chosen.

Bioelectromagnetics. 2007 Jan;28(1):64-8.

A pilot investigation of the effect of extremely low frequency pulsed electromagnetic fields on humans’ heart rate variability.

Baldi E, Baldi C, Lithgow BJ.

Diagnostic and Neurosignal Processing Research Group, Electrical & Computer System Engineering, Monash University, Victoria, Australia. Emilio.Baldi@eng.monash.edu.au


The question whether pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) can affect the heart rhythm is still controversial. This study investigates the effects on the cardiocirculatory system of ELF-PEMFs. It is a follow-up to an investigation made of the possible therapeutic effect ELF-PEMFs, using a commercially available magneto therapeutic unit, had on soft tissue injury repair in humans. Modulation of heart rate (HR) or heart rate variability (HRV) can be detected from changes in periodicity of the R-R interval and/or from changes in the numbers of heart-beat/min (bpm), however, R-R interval analysis gives only a quantitative insight into HRV. A qualitative understanding of HRV can be obtained considering the power spectral density (PSD) of the R-R intervals Fourier transform. In this study PSD is the investigative tool used, more specifically the low frequency (LF) PSD and high frequency (HF) PSD ratio (LF/HF) which is an indicator of sympatho-vagal balance. To obtain the PSD value, variations of the R-R time intervals were evaluated from a continuously recorded ECG. The results show a HR variation in all the subjects when they are exposed to the same ELF-PEMF. This variation can be detected by observing the change in the sympatho-vagal equilibrium, which is an indicator of modulation of heart activity. Variation of the LF/HF PSD ratio mainly occurs at transition times from exposure to nonexposure, or vice versa. Also of interest are the results obtained during the exposure of one subject to a range of different ELF-PEMFs. This pilot study suggests that a full investigation into the effect of ELF-PEMFs on the cardiovascular system is justified.

Magn Reson Med. 2003 Dec;50(6):1180-8.

Influence of magnetically-induced E-fields on cardiac electric activity during MRI: A modeling study.

Liu F, Xia L, Crozier S.

School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Brisbane, Australia.


In modern magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), patients are exposed to strong, time-varying gradient magnetic fields that may be able to induce electric fields (E-fields)/currents in tissues approaching the level of physiological significance. In this work we present theoretical investigations into induced E-fields in the thorax, and evaluate their potential influence on cardiac electric activity under the assumption that the sites of maximum E-field correspond to the myocardial stimulation threshold (an abnormal circumstance). Whole-body cylindrical and planar gradient coils were included in the model. The calculations of the induced fields are based on an efficient, quasi-static, finite-difference scheme and an anatomically realistic, whole-body model. The potential for cardiac stimulation was evaluated using an electrical model of the heart. Twelve-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) signals were simulated and inspected for arrhythmias caused by the applied fields for both healthy and diseased hearts. The simulations show that the shape of the thorax and the conductive paths significantly influence induced E-fields. In healthy patients, these fields are not sufficient to elicit serious arrhythmias with the use of contemporary gradient sets. However, raising the strength and number of repeated switching episodes of gradients, as is certainly possible in local chest gradient sets, could expose patients to increased risk. For patients with cardiac disease, the risk factors are elevated. By the use of this model, the sensitivity of cardiac pathologies, such as abnormal conductive pathways, to the induced fields generated by an MRI sequence can be investigated.

Auton Neurosci. 2003 Apr 30;105(1):53-61.

Can extremely low frequency alternating magnetic fields modulate heart rate or its variability in humans?

Kurokawa Y, Nitta H, Imai H, Kabuto M.

Environmental Health Science Region, National Institute for Environmental Studies, 16-2 Onogawa, Ibaraki Tsukuba 305-0053, Japan. kurokawa@nies.go.jp


This study is a reexamination of the possibility that exposure to extremely low frequency alternating magnetic field (ELF-MF) may influence heart rate (HR) or its variability (HRV) in humans. In a wooden room (cube with 2.7-m sides) surrounded with wire, three series of experiments were performed on 50 healthy volunteers, who were exposed to MFs at frequencies ranging from 50 to 1000 Hz and with flux densities ranging from 20 to 100 microT for periods ranging from 2 min to 12 h. In each experiment, six indices of HR/HRV were calculated from the RR intervals (RRIs): average RRI, standard deviation of RRIs, power spectral components in three frequency ranges (pVLF, pLF and pHF), and the ratio of pLF to pHF. Statistical analyses of results revealed no significant effect of ELF-MFs in any of the experiments, and suggested that the ELF-MF to which humans are exposed in their daily lives has no acute influence on the activity of the cardiovascular autonomic nervous system (ANS) that modulates the heart rate.

Neuropsychobiology. 1998 Nov;38(4):251-6.

No effects of pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic fields on heart rate variability during human sleep.

Mann K, Roschke J, Connemann B, Beta H.

Department of Psychiatry, University of Mainz, Germany.

The influence of pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by digital mobile radio telephones on heart rate during sleep in healthy humans was investigated. Beside mean RR interval and total variability of RR intervals based on calculation of the standard deviation, heart rate variability was assessed in the frequency domain by spectral power analysis providing information about the balance between the two branches of the autonomic nervous system. For most parameters, significant differences between different sleep stages were found. In particular, slow-wave sleep was characterized by a low ratio of low- and high-frequency components, indicating a predominance of the parasympathetic over the sympathetic tone. In contrast, during REM sleep the autonomic balance was shifted in favor of the sympathetic activity. For all heart rate parameters, no significant effects were detected under exposure to the field compared to placebo condition. Thus, under the given experimental conditions, autonomic control of heart rate was not affected by weak-pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic fields.

Bioelectromagnetics. 1998;19(2):98-106.

Nocturnal exposure to intermittent 60 Hz magnetic fields alters human cardiac rhythm.

Sastre A, Cook MR, Graham C.

Midwest Research Institute, Kansas City, Missouri 64110, USA. Asastre@mriresearch.org


Heart rate variability (HRV) results from the action of neuronal and cardiovascular reflexes, including those involved in the control of temperature, blood pressure and respiration. Quantitative spectral analyses of alterations in HRV using the digital Fourier transform technique provide useful in vivo indicators of beat-to-beat variations in sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve activity. Recently, decreases in HRV have been shown to have clinical value in the prediction of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. While previous studies have shown that exposure to power-frequency electric and magnetic fields alters mean heart rate, the studies reported here are the first to examine effects of exposure on HRV. This report describes three double-blind studies involving a total of 77 human volunteers. In the first two studies, nocturnal exposure to an intermittent, circularly polarized magnetic field at 200 mG significantly reduced HRV in the spectral band associated with temperature and blood pressure control mechanisms (P = 0.035 and P = 0.02), and increased variability in the spectral band associated with respiration (P = 0.06 and P = 0.008). In the third study the field was presented continuously rather than intermittently, and no significant effects on HRV were found. The changes seen as a function of intermittent magnetic field exposure are similar, but not identical, to those reported as predictive of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, the changes resemble those reported during stage II sleep. Further research will be required to determine whether exposure to magnetic fields alters stage II sleep and to define further the anatomical structures where field-related interactions between magnetic fields and human physiology should be sought.

Med Biol Eng Comput. 1992 Mar;30(2):162-8.

Closed-chest cardiac stimulation with a pulsed magnetic field.

Mouchawar GA, Bourland JD, Nyenhuis JA, Geddes LA, Foster KS, Jones JT, Graber GP.

Hillenbrand Biomedical Engineering Center, School of Electrical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907.


Magnetic stimulators, used medically, generate intense rapidly changing magnetic fields, capable of stimulating nerves. Advanced magnetic resonance imaging systems employ stronger and more rapidly changing gradient fields than those used previously. The risk of provoking cardiac arrhythmias by these new devices is of concern. In the paper, the threshold for cardiac stimulation by an externally-applied magnetic field is determined for 11 anaesthetised dogs. Two coplanar coils provide the pulsed magnetic field. An average energy of approximately 12 kJ is required to achieve closed-chest magnetically induced ectopic beats in the 17-26 kg dogs. The mean peak induced electric field for threshold stimulation is 213 V m-1 for a 571 microseconds damped sine wave pulse. Accounting for waveform efficacy and extrapolating to long-duration pulses, a threshold induced electric field strength of approximately 30 V m-1 for the rectangular pulse is predicted. It is now possible to establish the margin of safety for devices that use pulsed magnetic fields and to design therapeutic devices employing magnetic fields to stimulate the heart.

Bioelectromagnetics. 1992;13(4):303-11.

Preliminary report: modification of cardiac contraction rate by pulsed magnetic fields.

Ramon C, Powell MR.

Institute of Applied Physiology and Medicine, Seattle, WA 98122.


Isolated rat hearts and excised canine cardiac tissues were subjected to pulsed magnetic fields. The fields excited in coils by tandem pairings of sinusoidal pulses were presented at various inter-pair delays and repetition rates. The waveform of the magnetic field was a single or multiple sinusoid followed after a variable delay by another single or multiple sinusoid. Small but reliable increases in the beating rate of rat heart were observed. Similar increases occurred in contraction rates of canine tissues. Both preparations exhibited a contraction-rate dependency on the repetition rate of the paired magnetic pulses: 4.5-6 rep/s for canine tissue, and 20-25 and 40-55 reps/s for rat heart. Flux-density thresholds for both preparations approximated 10 mT (100 gauss) rms.