By Drs. Minassian, Maihofer, Baker, Nievergelt, Geyer, & Risbrough

August 01, 2018

Howard Terpning, Touchdown

Disruption of the brain and body’s stress response system, the autonomic nervous system (ANS), is well-documented in PTSD.  A sensitive way to measure ANS function is with heart rate variability (HRV), which measures the flexibility of the ANS in responding to and recovering from stress.  Many studies have found that people with PTSD have worse HRV—a less flexible ANS.  But, it is not known whether a poorly functioning ANS system puts a person at risk for developing PTSD.  To answer this question, we measured HRV in 2,160 Marines who were readying for an OEF/OIF combat deployment (Marine Resiliency Study).  We found that Marines who had worse HRV prior to deployment were more likely to return from deployment with a new diagnosis of PTSD.  These results represent one of the first long-term studies of HRV in PTSD and suggest that people with impaired stress response may be at higher risk for developing PTSD after being exposed to a trauma.  Interventions to reduce risk for PTSD may therefore be aimed at “retraining” the ANS to correctly respond to and recover from stress.  The results were published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2015.



To read the article, please visit:




Minassian, A., Maihofer, A.X., Baker, D.G., Nievergelt, C.M., Geyer, M.A., & Risbrough, V.B. (2015).  Association of pre-deployment heart rate variability with risk of post-deployment posttraumatic stress disorder in active-duty Marines.  JAMA Psychiatry, 72(10), 979-986.