Article

Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback

, Volume 35, Issue 3, pp 229-242

Biofeedback of Heart Rate Variability and Related Physiology: A Critical Review

  • Amanda L. WheatAffiliated withPsychology Department, West Virginia University Email author 
  • , Kevin T. LarkinAffiliated withPsychology Department, West Virginia University

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Abstract

Low heart rate variability (HRV) characterizes several medical and psychological diseases. HRV biofeedback is a newly developed approach that may have some use for treating the array of disorders in which HRV is relatively low. This review critically appraises evidence for the effectiveness of HRV and related biofeedback across 14 studies in improving (1) HRV and baroreflex outcomes and (2) clinical outcomes. Results revealed that HRV biofeedback consistently effectuates acute improvements during biofeedback practice, whereas the presence of short-term and long-term carry-over effects is less clear. Some evidence suggests HRV biofeedback may result in long-term carry-over effects on baroreflex gain, which is an area most promising for future investigations. On the other hand, concerning clinical outcomes, there is ample evidence attesting to efficacy of HRV biofeedback. However, because clinical and physiological outcomes do not improve concurrently in all cases, the mechanism by which HRV biofeedback results in salutary effects in unclear. Considerations for the field in addressing shortcomings of the reviewed studies and advancing understanding of the way in which HRV biofeedback may improve physiological and clinical outcomes are offered in light of the reviewed evidence.

Keywords

Heart rate variability Biofeedback Baroreflex Respiratory sinus arrhythmia