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Health Assessment Of Patients With COPD Using Heart Rate Variability

Posted Dec 29 2009 9:18pm

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the most widespread pulmonary health conditions following after asthma. COPD is a common disease for populations living in industrial regions caused by the following factors: first- and second-hand smoking, air pollution and stress. The direct and indirect costs of COPD to the society are staggering. For example, in 2002 in the USA alone total losses caused by COPD were over $30 billion dollars. There is no cure for COPD and it leads to developing various chronic conditions such as multiple bronchiectasis, emphysema, etc. COPD has significant negative impact on patients’ wellbeing and social life causing problems at work and home.

Recent studies have shown that stress plays a significant role in the clinical course of COPD. The presence of chronic stress in COPD patient’s life causes more severe coughing attacks and increases chances of complications.

Therefore performing health assessment to evaluate the severity of COPD, detect stress and its effects on body functions may help to mitigate its debilitating effects on patient’s life. Timely detection of stress conditions and adequate stress relief helps in relieving the hardness of COPD symptoms and preventing episodes of the disease attacks.

How to evaluate severity of COPD when doing patient’s health assessment? There are traditional methods of COPD assessment based on pulmonary function testing. Although these methods are extremely accurate, they must be performed in special labs by trained specialists which makes it fairly expensive. Besides that these tests are not capable of assessing patient’s stress level.

At the same time there is fairly simple and effective method of health assessment showing severity of COPD and stress level based on quantitative evaluation of the autonomic nervous system function. It uses the fact that COPD causes lowering of the autonomic nervous system regulatory function and shifting its balance towards sympathetic dominance.

Special normal values must be used for adequate assessment of the autonomic function and stress level when conducting a health assessment procedure. These normal values are created by testing specially selected groups of healthy subjects.

How to assess the autonomic nervous system function? Heart rate variability (HRV) analysis is a simple and effective method of its assessment. Since heart rhythm is under constant dynamic control of the autonomic nervous system, this method uses a simple heart rate recording and its respective mathematical analysis. As a result it gives quantitative measure of the autonomic function in form of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system activity levels. The results are compared to their normal values and the autonomic function and stress level are assessed.

Stress reduction and biofeedback training. There are simple and effective methods of biofeedback training based on HRV analysis which can be used for stress reduction. They are based on deep metronomic breathing techniques well-known in many traditional and alternative healing practices. These techniques cause positive effects on the autonomic regulation and help in reducing stress and restoring the autonomic balance. Regular use of this training helps to mitigate negative impacts of stress, normalize blood pressure and lower severity of COPD symptoms.

At this time one of the most effective tools for assessment of the autonomic function is the Heart Rhythm Scanner developed by a group of biomedical technology researchers from Biocom Technologies (USA). This tool is being successfully used by medical practitioners and researchers in many clinics and universities of the USA and other countries.

Besides that Biocom Technologies has developed the Heart Tracker, a stress management tool based on HRV biofeedback and deep paced breathing exercise. This system is also successfully used by health professionals in many clinics and by patients as a home training tool.

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