Modulating Heart Rate Variability through Deep Breathing Exercises and Transcutaneous Auricular Vagus Nerve Stimulation: A Study in Healthy Participants and in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Author: Mette Kjeldsgaard Jensen1, Sally Søgaard Andersen1, Stine Søgaard Andersen1, Caroline Hundborg Liboriussen1, Salome Kristensen2, Mads Jochumsen1
1 Department of Health Science and Technology, Aalborg University, 9220 Aalborg, Denmark.
2 Department of Rheumatology, Aalborg University Hospital, 9000 Aalborg, Denmark.
Conference/Journal: Sensors (Basel)
Date published: 2022 Oct 17
Other: Volume ID: 22 , Issue ID: 20 , Pages: 7884 , Special Notes: doi: 10.3390/s22207884. , Word Count: 222

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are associated with an impaired autonomic nervous system and vagus nerve function. Electrical or physiological (deep breathing-DB) vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) could be a potential treatment approach, but no direct comparison has been made. In this study, the effect of transcutaneous auricular VNS (taVNS) and DB on vagal tone was compared in healthy participants and RA or SLE patients. The vagal tone was estimated using time-domain heart-rate variability (HRV) parameters. Forty-two healthy participants and 52 patients performed 30 min of DB and 30 min of taVNS on separate days. HRV was recorded before and immediately after each intervention. For the healthy participants, all HRV parameters increased after DB (SDNN + RMSSD: 21-46%), while one HRV parameter increased after taVNS (SDNN: 16%). For the patients, all HRV parameters increased after both DB (17-31%) and taVNS (18-25%), with no differences between the two types of VNS. DB was associated with the largest elevation of the HRV parameters in healthy participants, while both types of VNS led to elevated HRV parameters in the patients. The findings support a potential use of VNS as a new treatment approach, but the clinical effects need to be investigated in future studies.

Keywords: autoimmune diseases; breathing; deep breathing; heart-rate variability; inflammation; neuromodulation; rheumatoid arthritis; systemic lupus erythematosus; transcutaneous auricular stimulation; vagus nerve stimulation.

PMID: 36298234 DOI: 10.3390/s22207884