BACKGROUND: Alterations in heart rate (HR) may provide new information about physiological signatures of depression severity. This 2-year study in individuals with a history of recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD) explored the intra-individual variations in HR parameters and their relationship with depression severity.
METHODS: Data from 510 participants (Number of observations of the HR parameters = 6666) were collected from three centres in the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK, as a part of the remote assessment of disease and relapse-MDD study. We analysed the relationship between depression severity, assessed every 2 weeks with the Patient Health Questionnaire-8, with HR parameters in the week before the assessment, such as HR features during all day, resting periods during the day and at night, and activity periods during the day evaluated with a wrist-worn Fitbit device. Linear mixed models were used with random intercepts for participants and countries. Covariates included in the models were age, sex, BMI, smoking and alcohol consumption, antidepressant use and co-morbidities with other medical health conditions.
RESULTS: Decreases in HR variation during resting periods during the day were related with an increased severity of depression both in univariate and multivariate analyses. Mean HR during resting at night was higher in participants with more severe depressive symptoms.
CONCLUSIONS: Our findings demonstrate that alterations in resting HR during all day and night are associated with depression severity. These findings may provide an early warning of worsening depression symptoms which could allow clinicians to take responsive treatment measures promptly.