Autonomic nervous system dysfunction (ANSD) is a significant cause of mortality in tetanus. Currently, diagnosis relies on nonspecific clinical signs. Heart rate variability (HRV) may indicate underlying autonomic nervous system activity and represents a potentially valuable noninvasive tool for ANSD diagnosis in tetanus. HRV was measured from three 5-minute electrocardiogram recordings during a 24-hour period in a cohort of patients with severe tetanus, all receiving mechanical ventilation. HRV measurements from all subjects-five with ANSD (Ablett Grade 4) and four patients without ANSD (Ablett Grade 3)-showed HRV was lower than reported ranges for healthy individuals. Comparing different severities of tetanus, raw data for both time and frequency measurements of HRV were reduced in those with ANSD compared with those without. Differences were statistically significant in all except root mean square SD, indicating HRV may be a valuable tool in ANSD diagnosis.
Am J Trop Med Hyg