top of page



How accurate is pulse rate variability as an estimate of heart rate variability?: A review on studies comparing photoplethysmographic technology with an electrocardiogram.
Int J Cardiol. 2013; 166(1):15-29 (ISSN: 1874-1754)
Schäfer A; Vagedes J
Arcim institute, Im Haberschlai 7, 70794 Filderstadt, Germany; University of Tübingen, Institute of Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, Gartenstr. 29, 72074 Tübingen, Germany.

BACKGROUND: The usefulness of heart rate variability (HRV) as a clinical research and diagnostic tool has been verified in numerous studies. The gold standard technique comprises analyzing time series of RR intervals from an electrocardiographic signal. However, some authors have used pulse cycle intervals instead of RR intervals, as they can be determined from a pulse wave (e.g. a photoplethysmographic) signal. This option is often called pulse rate variability (PRV), and utilizing it could expand the serviceability of pulse oximeters or simplify ambulatory monitoring of HRV.

METHODS: We review studies investigating the accuracy of PRV as an estimate of HRV, regardless of the underlying technology (photoplethysmography, continuous blood pressure monitoring or Finapresi, impedance plethysmography).

RESULTS/CONCLUSIONS: Results speak in favor of sufficient accuracy when subjects are at rest, although many studies suggest that short-term variability is somewhat overestimated by PRV, which reflects coupling effects between respiration and the cardiovascular system. Physical activity and some mental stressors seem to impair the agreement of PRV and HRV, often to an inacceptable extent. Findings regarding the position of the sensor or the detection algorithm are not conclusive. Generally, quantitative conclusions are impeded by the fact that results of different studies are mostly incommensurable due to diverse experimental settings and/or methods of analysis.

bottom of page