BACKGROUND: Hypertensive pregnancy disorders (HPD) are associated with dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. Cardiac autonomic functions can be assessed by heart rate variability (HRV) measurements.
OBJECTIVE: To study whether HRV detects differences in the function of the autonomic nervous system between pregnant women with HPD compared to normotensive pregnant women and between women with a history of a pregnancy complicated by HPD compared to women with a history of an uncomplicated pregnancy.
METHODS: A systematic search was performed in Medline, EMBASE, and CENTRAL to identify studies comparing HRV between pregnant women with HPD or women with a history of HPD to women with (a history of) normotensive pregnancies.
RESULTS: The search identified 523 articles of which 24 were included in this review, including 850 women with (a history of) HPD and 1205 normotensive controls. The included studies showed a large heterogenicity. A decrease in overall HRV was found in preeclampsia (PE), compared to normotensive pregnant controls. A trend is seen towards increased low frequency/high frequency-ratio in women with PE compared to normotensive pregnant controls.
CONCLUSION: Our systematic review supports the hypothesis a sympathetic overdrive is found in HPD which is associated with a parasympathetic withdrawal. However, the included studies in our review showed a large diversity in the methods applied and their results.