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Measures of heart rate variability (HRV) are widely used to assess autonomic nervous system (ANS) function. The signal from which they are derived requires accurate determination of the interval between successive heartbeats; it can be recorded via electrocardiography (ECG), which is both non-invasive and widely available. However, methodological problems inherent in the recording and analysis of ECG traces have motivated a search for alternatives. Photoplethysmography (PPG) constitutes another means of determining the timing of cardiac cycles via continuous monitoring of changes in blood volume in a portion of the peripheral microvasculature. This technique measures pulse waveforms, which in some instances may prove a practical basis for HRV analysis. We investigated the feasibility of using earlobe PPG to analyse HRV by applying the same analytic process to PPG and ECG recordings made simultaneously. Comparison of 5-minute recordings demonstrated a very high degree of correlation in the temporal and frequency domains and in nonlinear dynamic analyses between HRV measures derived from PPG and ECG. Our results confirm that PPG provides accurate interpulse intervals from which HRV measures can be accurately derived in healthy subjects under ideal conditions, suggesting this technique may prove a practical alternative to ECG for HRV analysis. This finding is of particular relevance to the care of patients suffering from peripheral hyperkinesia or tremor, which make fingertip PPG recording impractical, and following clinical interventions known to introduce electrical artefacts into the electrocardiogram.

Original publication




Journal article


J Med Eng Technol

Publication Date





634 - 641


Adolescent, Analysis of Variance, Biomedical Engineering, Ear Auricle, Electrocardiography, Female, Heart Rate, Humans, Male, Nonlinear Dynamics, Photoplethysmography, Reference Values, Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted, Young Adult