Fetal Heart Rate Variability Is Affected by Fetal Movements: A Systematic Review

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Introduction: Fetal heart rate variability (FHRV) evaluates the fetal neurological state, which is poorly assessed by conventional prenatal surveillance including cardiotocography (CTG). Accurate FHRV on a beat-to-beat basis, assessed by time domain and spectral domain analyses, has shown promising results in the scope of fetal surveillance. However, accepted standards for these techniques are lacking, and the influence of fetal breathing movements and gross movements may be especially challenging. Thus, current standards for equivalent assessments in adults prescribe rest and controlled respiration. The aim of this review is to clarify the importance of fetal movements on FHRV. Methods: A systematic review in accordance with the PRISMA guidelines based on publications in the EMBASE, the MEDLINE, and the Cochrane Library databases was performed. Studies describing the impact of fetal movements on time domain, spectral domain and entropy analyses in healthy human fetuses were reviewed. Only studies based on fetal electrocardiography or fetal magnetocardiography were included. PROSPERO registration number: CRD42018068806. Results: In total, 14 observational studies were included. Fetal movement detection, signal processing, length, and selection of appropriate time series varied across studies. Despite these divergences, all studies showed an increase in overall FHRV in the moving fetus compared to the resting fetus. Especially short-term, vagal mediated indexes showed an increase during fetal breathing movements including an increase in Root Mean Square of the Successive Differences (RMSSD) and High Frequency power (HF) and a decrease in Low Frequency power/High Frequency power (LF/HF). These findings were present even in analyses restricted to one specific fetal behavioral state defined by Nijhuis. On the other hand, fetal body movements seemed to increase parameters supposed to represent the sympathetic response [LF and Standard Deviation of RR-intervals from normal sinus beats (SDNN)] proportionally more than parameters representing the parasympathetic response (RMSSD, HF). Results regarding entropy analyses were inconclusive. Conclusion: Time domain analyses as well as spectral domain analyses are affected by fetal movements. Fetal movements and especially breathing movements should be considered in these analyses of FHRV.

Original languageEnglish
Article number578898
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020

    Research areas

  • autonomic nerous function, electrocardiagram, fetus (MeSH), heart rate variabiity, pregnanant women, sinus arrhythmia

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