Variation of spontaneous respiratory rates and influences of spontaneous and paced breathing rates on heart rate variability (HRV) were assessed in patients with epilepsy or migraine, and HRV parameters were compared between the groups.
Thirty neurologic outpatients, 16 diagnosed with epilepsies and 14 with migraine, were included. Autonomic testing consisted of short-term HRV, the deep breathing test (DBT), and measurement of HRV at systematically changed breathing rates (paced breathing, 5–18 breaths per minute, bpm).
Spontaneous respiratory rate during short-term HRV varied from 9 to 23 bpm in the epileptic group and from 5 to 21 bpm in migraine patients and was significantly and negatively correlated with SD of all normal RR intervals (SDNN) and total power (TP) in epileptic patients but not in migraine patients. Paced breathing rate had a significant effect on all HRV parameters assessed in both groups. HRV (SD1, SDNN, TP) and DBT (E-I, SD1, SDNN) parameters were significantly lower in the epileptic group. Group differences were significantly greater during slow compared to fast breathing.
An important and new finding is the wide variation of spontaneous respiratory rate in both groups, along with the significant negative correlation with the assessed HRV parameters. The reduction of HRV during slow breathing in epileptic patients may indicate a diminished cardiorespiratory coupling caused by a probable loss of sensitivity within the cardiovagal brainstem circuitry.