Annals of Clinical and Experimental Hypertension

“Right Ventricular Hypertrophy or Right Ventricular Dilatation in Pulmonary Hypertension: Is there a Difference in the Autonomic Balance”?

Research Article | Open Access

  • 1. Institute of Basic Health Sciences, Department of Physiology, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil
  • 2. Institute of Science and Technology, Federal University of São Paulo, Brazil
  • 3. Department of Basic Health Sciences, Federal University of Health Sciences of Porto Alegre, Brazil
  • 4. Pulmonary Hypertension Center, Santa Casa de Misericordia de Porto Alegre, Brazil
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Corresponding Authors
Katya Vianna Rigatto, Department of Basic Health Sciences, Federal University of Health Sciences of Porto Alegre, Sarmento Leite, 245, Porto Alegre, 90050-170, RS/ Brazil, Tel: 0 xx 55 51 3303-8753; Fax: 0 xx 55 51 3303-8753

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16. McLaughlin VV, Archer SL, Badesch DB, Barst RJ, Farber HW, Lindner JR, et al. ACCF/AHA 2009 expert consensus document on pulmonary hypertension a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation Task Force on Expert Consensus Documents and the American Heart Association developed in collaboration with the American College of Chest Physicians; American Thoracic Society, Inc.; and the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2009; 53: 1573-1619.

17. Chen EP, Craig DM, Bittner HB, Davis RD, Van Trigt P. Pharmacological strategies for improving diastolic dysfunction in the setting of chronic pulmonary hypertension. Circulation. 1998; 97: 1606-1612.

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20. Dias da Silva Valdo J, Viana Públio CC, de Melo Alves R, Fazan R Jr, Ruscone TG, Porta A, Malliani A, et al. Intravenous amiodarone modifies autonomic balance and increases baroreflex sensitivity in conscious rats. Auton Neurosci. 2002; 95: 88-96.

21. Porta A, Guzzetti S, Montano N, Furlan R, Pagani M, Malliani A, et al. Entropy, entropy rate, and pattern classification as tools to typify complexity in short heart period variability series. IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 2001; 48: 1282-1291.

22. Montano N, Ruscone TG, Porta A, Lombardi F, Pagani M, Malliani A. Power spectrum analysis of heart rate variability to assess the changes in sympathovagal balance during graded orthostatic tilt. Circulation. 1994; 90: 1826-1831.

23. Montano N, Porta A, Cogliati C, Costantino G, Tobaldini E, Casali KR, et al. Heart rate variability explored in the frequency domain: a tool to investigate the link between heart and behavior. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009; 33: 71-80.

24. McGowan CL, Swiston JS, Notarius CF, Mak S, Morris BL, Picton PE, et al. Discordance between microneurographic and heart-rate spectral indices of sympathetic activity in pulmonary arterial hypertension. Heart. 2009; 95: 754-758.

25. Rigatto K, Casali KR, Shenoy V, Katovich MJ, Raizada MK. Diminazene aceturate improves autonomic modulation in pulmonary hypertension. Eur J Pharmacol. 2013; 713: 89-93.

26. Velez-Roa S, Ciarka A, Najem B, Vachiery JL, Naeije R, van de Borne P. Increased sympathetic nerve activity in pulmonary artery hypertension. Circulation. 2004; 110: 1308-1312.

27. Folino AF, Bobbo F, Schiraldi C, Tona F, Romano S, Buja G, et al. Ventricular arrhythmias and autonomic profile in patients with primary pulmonary hypertension. Lung. 2003; 181: 321-328.

28. Can MM, Kaymaz C, Pochi N, Aktimur T. Impact of pulmonary arterial hypertension and its therapy on indices of heart rate variability. Med Glas (Zenica). 2013; 10: 249-253.

29. Ciarka A, Doan V, Velez-Roa S, Naeije R, van de Borne P. Prognostic significance of sympathetic nervous system activation in pulmonary arterial hypertension. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2010; 181: 1269- 1275.

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31. Davos CH, Davlouros PA, Wensel R, Francis D, Davies LC, Kilner PJ, et al. Global impairment of cardiac autonomic nervous activity late after repair of tetralogy of Fallot. Circulation. 2002; 106: I69-75.

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Introduction: Even though autonomic nervous system imbalance is a common finding in several diseases, these imbalances often remain untreated. The prognosis of pulmonary hypertension (PH) depends upon the functional capacity of the right ventricle. Because an autonomic nervous system imbalance occurs in PH, our goal was to investigate whether the magnitude of this imbalance might provide valuable information regarding the diagnosis, prognosis and possibly the treatment of PH.

Objective: To investigate the sympathovagal balance in PH associated with right ventricular hypertrophy or right ventricular dilation.

Methods: An electrocardiogram was performed in two groups of patients with PH evaluation of autonomic responses by spectral analysis: group 1- PH patients with right ventricular hypertrophy (PH-H; n= 6) and group 2- PH patients with right ventricular dilatation (PH-D; n= 9). In addition, a group of healthy subjects was also studied (CO; n= 5).

Results: The autonomic balance, as determined by the ratio of the low (LF) and high frequency (HF) components (m/s2) of the electrocardiogram, was significantly impaired in the PH-D group (2±1.2) compared to the PH-H (0.5±0.4) and control (0.4±0.4) groups. In addition, there was significant variability in heart rates (m/s2) between all groups: PH-D (381±100), PH-H (1007±403) and control (1917±656).

Conclusion: For the first time, a sympathetic/parasympathetic imbalance was shown to exist in PH associated with dilated cardiomyopathy but not in PH associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.


Roncato G, Casali KR, Machado Duarte AA, Cardoso BD, Watte G, et al. (2014) “Right Ventricular Hypertrophy or Right Ventricular Dilatation in Pulmonary Hypertension: Is there a Difference in the Autonomic Balance”? Ann Clin Exp Hypertension 2(1): 1006.


•    Autonomic nervous system
•    Pulmonary hypertension
•    Right ventricle hypertrophy
•    Right ventricle dilatation
•    Right ventricle


PH: Pulmonary Hypertension; ANS: Autonomic Nervous System; BP: Blood Pressure; HR: Heart Rate; HRV: Heart Rate Variability; ECG: Electrocardiogram; RV: Right Ventricle; NYHA: New York Heart Association; PH-H: PH patients with right hypertrophic cardiomyopathy; PH-D: PH patients with right dilated cardiomyopathy; CO: Control group; PI: Pulse Interval; HF: High Frequency; SD: Standard Deviation; LFa: absolute Low Frequency; HFa: absolute High Frequency; LFnu: normalized Low Frequency; HFnu: normalized High Frequency; BPV: Blood Pressure Variability; y: years; PDE-5: Phosphodiesterase 5; WHO: World Health Organization; HIV: Human Immunodeficiency Virus.


Pulmonary hypertension (PH) is a disease with a poor prognosis and is characterized by inappropriate elevations in pulmonary arterial pressure [1], endothelial dysfunction, coagulation abnormalities, vascular remodeling, vasodilator/ vasoconstrictor imbalances [2] and autonomic nervous system (ANS) disturbances [3,4]. Progressive remodeling of the pulmonary vasculature leads to increased vascular resistance and, consequently, increased pulmonary arterial pressure, resulting in right ventricle failure [1].

The ANS plays an important role in the regulation of blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) [5,6]. ANS changes are important prognosis indicators and are associated with several pathologies, including PH [4]. The assessment of heart rate variability (HRV) provides relevant information about ANS function and quantitatively expresses sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system modulation of the cardiovascular system [7]. A reduction in HRV is associated with poorer outcomes [8-10] and is a precursor to the development of hypertension [11]. Moreover, a consensus of clinical opinion states that a higher HRV indicates better BP control. Because HRV can be assessed by a simple electrocardiogram (ECG), this relevant information could easily be obtained in clinical situations to aid in the diagnosis [12,13] of PH, evaluation of cardiovascular risk [14] and monitoring of the disease.

Right ventricle (RV) function is the major determinant of functional capacity and prognosis in PH. The RV is exposed to pressure overload caused by chronic HP, triggering an initial adaptive response, such as myocardial hypertrophy [15]. On the other hand, as very well described by McLaughlin et al. (2009), “…it remains unclear why some RVs compensate while others decompensate, manifest as thinning and dilatation of the wall,…” [16].

RV dilation may be an attempt to maintain systolic volume despite the reduction in fractional shortening [15]. However, the contractile strength of the RV progressively weakens, followed by symptoms of RV failure such as high filling pressure and diastolic dysfunction [17]. Thus, the RV function and size not only are indicators of the severity and chronicity of PH but also are an additional cause of a patient’s symptoms and worsen a patient’s prognosis [15].

In addition, it is well established in the literature that the predominance of sympathetic modulation correlates with disease severity [4]. On the other hand, the role of sympathetic and parasympathetic balance in the progression of cardiac dysfunction in PH is by no means clear.

Considering the relevance of sympathetic and parasympathetic modulation to patient evaluation and monitoring, HRV changes in PH patients with either right ventricular hypertrophy or right ventricular dilatation using ECG were investigated. Our primary goal is to better understand PH physiopathology. An additional goal is to focus attention on spectral analysis as a clinically unexplored method that can aid in PH risk evaluation, disease monitoring, and possibly treatment.

Table 1:

  Hypertrophy Dilation
Patients, n 6 9
Age, y (mean) 41 41
Treatment, n    
Endothelin antagonists 1 2
PDE-5 inibitor 5 7
Functional class WHO (mean) 2 2
Diagnosis, n    
Idiopathic 2 2
Congenital heart disease 3 4
Chronic thromboembolic 1 1
Connective tissue disease   1
HIV   1

Abbreviations: y: years; PDE-5: phosphodiesterase 5; WHO: world health organization; HIV: human immunodeficiency virus.



Fifteen patients with PH and five controls gave informed consent to participate in the study, which was approved by the Ethics Committee of Universidade Federal de Ciências da Saúde de Porto Alegre.

Patients with a mean pulmonary arterial pressure > 25 mmHg were included. Their functional status was scored according to the New York Heart Association (NYHA) classification. Patient characteristics are summarized in (Table 1).


  1. Control (CO): Subjects without diagnosed disease (n = 5; 3 women);
  2. PH-H: PH patients with right hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (n = 6; 5 women);
  3. PH-D: PH patients with right dilated cardiomyopathy (n = 9; 8 women).


All ECGs were recorded between 1 and 3 PM. During the data recording, the subjects were at rest in the supine position in a quiet room. They were advised to remain motionless in a comfortable position. Disposable electrodes were placed on the skin of the chest to collect electrocardiographic signals (derived: DI, DII and DIII), which reflect cardiac electrical activity [18]. Continuous ECG signals (sampling rate, 1 kHz) were recorded by a MP150 system (Biopac, California, USA) and used to perform spectral analysis using an autoregressive model (Table 2).

If a woman was of childbearing age, the ECG was performed between the 1st and 5th day of the menstrual cycle to standardize the data.

Autonomic modulation evaluation

The sympathetic and parasympathetic modulation of the heart was evaluated by spectral analysis of a time series of RR intervals (tachograms) extracted from the ECG signals through software provided by the manufacturer of the acquisition system (Acknowledge software, Biopac Systems Inc).

After detecting the pulse intervals, the heart period was automatically calculated on a beat-to-beat basis as the time interval between two consecutive systolic peaks or a pulse interval (PI). All data were carefully checked to avoid erroneous detections or missed beats. Sequences of 200-300 beats were randomly chosen. If the randomly selected sequence included evident non-stationarities, the sequence was discarded, and a new random selection was performed. Frequency domain analysis of HRV was performed with an autoregressive algorithm [19-21] on the PI interval sequences (tachogram). In this study, two spectral components were considered: low frequency (LF), from 0.04 to 0.15 Hz, and high frequency (HF), from 0.15 to 0.5 Hz. The spectral components are expressed in absolute (s2 or mmHg2) and normalized units (nu). Normalization consisted of dividing the power of a given spectral component by the total power and multiplying the ratio by 100 [22] Moreover, the ratio of the absolute LF/HF values, known as cardiac sympathetic and parasympathetic balance, was also calculated for each stretch [23].

Statistical analysis

Data are expressed as the mean ± standard deviation (SD). The statistical analysis was performed using one-way ANOVA followed by Tukey’s post-hoc test for multiple comparisons. Values were considered significant at p<0.05.

Table 2:

                                              Spectral Analysis
LFa (ms2) 316+89 222+107 87+11*
HFa (ms2) 1009+532 281+300# 73+45**
LFnu (%) 27+15 44+20 52+15
HFnu (%) 71+15 62+14 31+19&,*

Abbreviations: CO=control group; PH-H=PH patients with right dilated cardiomyopathy; PH-D=PH patients with right hypertrophic cardiomyopathy; LFa= low frequency in absolute values; HFa= high frequency in absolute values; LFnu= low frequency in normalized values; HFnu= high frequency in normalized values; *,#P≤0,01 vs CO; #P≤0,05 vs PH-D; **P≤0,001 vs CO; &≤0,01 vs CO.


Examination of absolute frequency values indicated a significant reduction in sympathetic (LFa; 72%) and parasympathetic (HFa; 93%) modulation in the PH-D group compared to the CO group. On the other hand, only the HFa component was significantly decreased (72%) in the PH-H group relative to the CO group.

When frequency values were normalized as a percentage of ANS participation, sympathetic modulation (LFnu) was higher in the PH-D (92%) and PH-H (62%) groups compared to the CO group. These differences were not statistically significant. On the other hand, parasympathetic modulation (HFnu) was significantly lower in the PH-D group compared to the PH-H and CO groups.

The LF/HF ratio, reflecting the sympathetic and parasympathetic balance, was significantly higher in the PH-D (2.0±1.2) group compared with the PH-H (0.5±0.4) and CO (0.4±0.4) groups (Figure 1). These results are particularly important because they demonstrate a proportional reduction in the parasympathetic modulation of the heart only in PH-D patients.

Consistent with our observed LF/HF ratios, HR did not differ among the groups. However, the HRV was significantly lower in the PH-D (381±100 ms2 ) and PH-H (1007±403 ms2 ) groups when compared to the CO group (1917±656 ms2 ). On the other hand, there was also a decrease in HRV in the PH-D group relative to the PH-H group (Figure 2), indicating a worsening in autonomic modulation with disease progression.

This is the first study to demonstrate a significant difference in the reflex control of the heart in both hypertrophic and dilated cardiomyopathy associated with PH.

The main finding of this study was that the sympathetic modulation was significantly higher in the PH-D group when compared with the CO and PH-H groups. On the other hand, the HRV was significantly lower in the PH-D group compared to the PH-H and CO groups, demonstrating that ventricular dilatation is associated with impaired reflex control of the heart.

In this context, an important unanswered question regarding the physiopathology of PH is to determine why some right ventricles respond to pressure overload with hypertrophy and others show thinning and dilation of the wall and worsening of right ventricular function [16].

Although without specifying the type of cardiomyopathy, McGown et al. (2009) observed a reduction in the LF absolute spectral component in PH patients compared to controls [24]. These results are in agreement with our observed decreases in absolute values, indicating sympathetic and parasympathetic modulation. On the other hand, normalizing the data revealed that sympathetic modulation predominated, as indicated by the increase in LFnu and the LF/HF ratio.

Interpretation of our data allows us to conclude that there is a worsening in hemodynamic parameters in the PH-D group. Our observed decrease in HFnu indicates a reduc tion in parasympathetic stimulation of the cardiovascular system. This result was also confirmed experimentally by Rigatto et al. (2013) who, in studying rats with monocrotaline-induced PH, found a decrease in HFnu compared to control rats [25]. This result shows a reapportioning of control between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems in favor of sympathetic modulation.

These results are in complete agreement with our observed increases in the LF/HF ratio of 466% in the PH-D group and 380% in the PH-H group versus the CO group. There is a consensus that ANS is impaired in PH [26]. On the other hand, we did not find a difference in LF/HF ratios between the PH-H and CO groups. These results indicate that impairment of the sympathetic and parasympathetic balance occurs only in PH patients with dilated cardiomyopathy. These results are consistent with those of McGowan et al. (2009), which also showed a reduction in the LF/ HF ratio in patients with PH; however, again, these authors did not specify whether hypertrophic or dilated [24] cardiomyopathy occurred.

In addition, Wensel et al. (2009) [4,27], Folino et al. (2003) [4,27], and Mustafa Can et al. (2013) [28] also demonstrated a reduction in HRV accompanied by sympathetic and parasympathetic imbalances in patients with PH. In our results, the HRV was significantly decreased in PH-D (80%) and PH-H (47%) patients when compared to the control group. These results show that the autonomic imbalance in PH patients with RV hypertrophy was almost half of that observed in PH patients with RV dilation. Velez Roa and colleagues (2004) also demonstrated that there is an association between sympathetic hyperactivity and the severity of PH [26].

Because increased sympathetic activity in PH can be detrimental to both the heart and the pulmonary vasculature [29] and decreased HRV is associated with a worse prognosis in cardiovascular disease, [8,9,30,31] we conclude that patients with right ventricular hypertrophy have most likely “adapted” to their condition. On the other hand, patients who have a maladaptive response to RV overload develop RV dilatation.

Moreover, it is important to consider that HRV is inversely associated with BP variability (BPV) [32]. Thus, it is reasonable to consider that decreases in HRV, accompanied by increases in BPV, are significant risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease development. There is also evidence that the BPV is most likely more important than BP per se [14]. If so, it is absolutely necessary to treat the HR disturbances in order to decrease the BPV and cardiovascular risk.

Furthermore, the use of a non-invasive method to quantify autonomic modulation and assess cardiovascular risks can be of great value to better understand PH. Discovering whether the “adaptation” is a cause or a consequence of the autonomic dysfunction can aid in the development of strategies to reduce the imbalances between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Use of ECG and treatment of ANS imbalances may represent important strategies to improve the quality of life of millions of people.


In conclusion, because HRV is a predictor of poor outcomes in PH patients [24] and treating the autonomic system can improve survival [28], future studies need to focus on the ANS as a possible therapeutic target to augment the conventional treatment of PH and thus improve survival. As emphasized by Rigatto et al. (2013), “…a drug that improves the ANS balance and decreases the ventricle pressure, certainly will postpone the transition from compensated hypertrophy to maladaptive remodeling and dilatation [25].”

Additional studies are needed to confirm these findings and to determine whether autonomic changes can be classified as a cause or consequence of cardiac remodeling in PH.

Roncato G, Casali KR, Machado Duarte AA, Cardoso BD, Watte G, et al. (2014) “Right Ventricular Hypertrophy or Right Ventricular Dilatation in Pulmonary Hypertension: Is there a Difference in the Autonomic Balance”? Ann Clin Exp Hypertension 2(1): 1006.

Received : 25 Nov 2013
Accepted : 04 Jan 2014
Published : 06 Jan 2014
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ISSN : 2475-9430
Launched : 2014
JSM Allergy and Asthma
ISSN : 2573-1254
Launched : 2016
Journal of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
ISSN : 2334-2307
Launched : 2013
Annals of Sports Medicine and Research
ISSN : 2379-0571
Launched : 2014
JSM Sexual Medicine
ISSN : 2578-3718
Launched : 2016
Annals of Vascular Medicine and Research
ISSN : 2378-9344
Launched : 2014
JSM Biotechnology and Biomedical Engineering
ISSN : 2333-7117
Launched : 2013
Journal of Hematology and Transfusion
ISSN : 2333-6684
Launched : 2013
JSM Environmental Science and Ecology
ISSN : 2333-7141
Launched : 2013
Journal of Cardiology and Clinical Research
ISSN : 2333-6676
Launched : 2013
JSM Nanotechnology and Nanomedicine
ISSN : 2334-1815
Launched : 2013
Journal of Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders
ISSN : 2475-9473
Launched : 2016
JSM Ophthalmology
ISSN : 2333-6447
Launched : 2013
Journal of Pharmacology and Clinical Toxicology
ISSN : 2333-7079
Launched : 2013
Annals of Psychiatry and Mental Health
ISSN : 2374-0124
Launched : 2013
Medical Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology
ISSN : 2333-6439
Launched : 2013
Annals of Pediatrics and Child Health
ISSN : 2373-9312
Launched : 2013
JSM Clinical Pharmaceutics
ISSN : 2379-9498
Launched : 2014
JSM Foot and Ankle
ISSN : 2475-9112
Launched : 2016
JSM Alzheimer's Disease and Related Dementia
ISSN : 2378-9565
Launched : 2014
Journal of Addiction Medicine and Therapy
ISSN : 2333-665X
Launched : 2013
Journal of Veterinary Medicine and Research
ISSN : 2378-931X
Launched : 2013
Annals of Public Health and Research
ISSN : 2378-9328
Launched : 2014
Annals of Orthopedics and Rheumatology
ISSN : 2373-9290
Launched : 2013
Journal of Clinical Nephrology and Research
ISSN : 2379-0652
Launched : 2014
Annals of Community Medicine and Practice
ISSN : 2475-9465
Launched : 2014
Annals of Biometrics and Biostatistics
ISSN : 2374-0116
Launched : 2013
JSM Clinical Case Reports
ISSN : 2373-9819
Launched : 2013
Journal of Cancer Biology and Research
ISSN : 2373-9436
Launched : 2013
Journal of Surgery and Transplantation Science
ISSN : 2379-0911
Launched : 2013
Journal of Dermatology and Clinical Research
ISSN : 2373-9371
Launched : 2013
JSM Gastroenterology and Hepatology
ISSN : 2373-9487
Launched : 2013
Annals of Nursing and Practice
ISSN : 2379-9501
Launched : 2014
JSM Dentistry
ISSN : 2333-7133
Launched : 2013
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