Published:  2012-12-01

The relationships among heart rate variability, executive functions, and clinical variables in patients with panic disorder

Authors:  Anders Hovland, Ståle Pallesen, Åsa Hammar, Anita Lill Hansen, Julian F. Thayer, Mika P. Tarvainen, Inger Hilde Nordhus

Tags:  Anxiety, Attention, Executive functions, Heart rate variability, Inhibition, Panic disorder

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Heart rate variability (HRV) is reduced in patients who suffer from panic disorder (PD). Reduced HRV is related to hypoactivity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), which negatively affects executive functioning. The present study assessed the relationships between vagally mediated HRV at baseline and measures of executive functioning in 36 patients with PD. Associations between these physiological and cognitive measures and panic-related variables were also investigated. HRV was measured using HF-power (ms2), and executive functions were assessed with the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST) and the Color-Word Interference Test (CWIT) from the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS). Panic-related variables comprised panic frequency, panic-related distress, and duration of PD. Performance on the neuropsychological measures correlated significantly with HRV. Both panic-related distress and duration of PD were inversely related with measures of HRV and cognitive inhibition. The current findings support the purported relationship between HRV and executive functions involving the PFC.