Cardiovascular autonomic regulation, inflammation and pain in rheumatoid arthritis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

External organisations

  • Department of Rheumatology, Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust, Russells Hall Hospital


BACKGROUND: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory condition characterised by reduced heart rate variability (HRV) of unknown cause. We tested the hypothesis that low HRV, indicative of cardiac autonomic cardiovascular dysfunction, was associated with systemic inflammation and pain. Given the high prevalence of hypertension (HTN) in RA, a condition itself associated with low HRV, we also assessed whether the presence of hypertension further reduced HRV in RA.

METHODS: In RA-normotensive (n=13), RA-HTN (n=17), normotensive controls (NC; n=17) and HTN (n=16) controls, blood pressure and heart rate were recorded. Time and frequency domain measures of HRV along with serological markers of inflammation (high sensitivity C-reactive protein [hs-CRP], tumour necrosis factor-α [TNF-α] and interleukins [IL]) were determined. Reported pain was assessed using a visual analogue scale.

RESULTS: Time (rMSSD, pNN50%) and frequency (high frequency power, low frequency power, total power) domain measures of HRV were lower in the RA, RA-HTN and HTN groups, compared to NC (p=0.001). However, no significant differences in HRV were noted between the RA, RA-HTN and HTN groups. Inverse associations were found between time and frequency measures of HRV and inflammatory cytokines (IL-6 and IL-10), but were not independent after multivariable analysis. hs-CRP and pain were independently and inversely associated with time domain (rMMSD, pNN50%) parameters of HRV.

CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that lower HRV is associated with increased inflammation and independently associated with increased reported pain, but not compounded by the presence of HTN in patients with RA.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-145
JournalAutonomic Neuroscience
Early online date13 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Journal Article, autonomic nervous system , stress , physiological , parasympathetic