What are Those Wires that Hug the Heart?

Have you ever seen a movie, TV show, or commercial where a person is in a medical facility with wires attached to his chest? A fancy medical machine and doctor are usually nearby, accompanied by bleeps and bloops – sounds that mimic those of an EKG.

You’ve probably guessed before that these wires are helping doctors determine something.

But what?

Those wires and the machines you’ve wondered about are part of something called a heart rate variability (HRV) test. Today, the test is mostly used as a preventative medical measure that determines the consistency of someone’s heart rate during exercise. If the heart responds well to different physical variables, the person is said to have a decreased heart variability. And, if the heart responds with murmurs, large spikes, and other inconsistencies, the person is said to have an increased heart rate variability.

If a heart is healthy, it experiences fewer variables. The heart speeds up and slows down at a consistent rate that’s considered healthy.  Whenever a person suspects an immediate problem with their heart, or if there is a history of heart problems in the family, a heart rate variability test is often proposed.  It helps identify the physical state (high movement, low movement, no movement) during which the heart experiences abnormal rhythms.

Two Main Ways of Testing

Medical professionals use the information produced by the HRV equipment in one of two ways. They measure heart health with a time domain, frequency domain, or both.

The time domain relies on simple beat-to-beat intervals to determine heart health whereas the frequency domain expresses the amount of change between different frequencies.  These frequencies are then categorized as high, low, or very low. Each frequency expresses different activities in the body and helps medical professionals determine present, imminent, or future heart-related problems.

As previously mentioned, these tests are used mostly today to prevent future heart complications. Many doctors recommend these tests to people with a history of family health problems.

What These Tests Can Determine

Because the test has been around for decades, medical doctors and researchers have had the opportunity to closely analyze test patterns.  With the information provided by the heart rate variability test, they’ve been able to run tests and attach different health risks to specific patterns.

Dr. William R. Martin, MD, a proponent of using HRV testing as a means of prevention, said unfavorable changes in HRV could be used to predict something as serious Sudden cardiac death, or cardiac arrest, which is a known major health problem.

As more tests are completed, doctors and researchers will have more data to help make predictions more accurate than before.

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