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Open AccessArticle

Association between Disease Severity, Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Serum Cortisol Concentrations in Horses with Acute Abdominal Pain

1
Equine Clinic, Veterinary Department, Freie University Berlin, 14163 Berlin, Germany
2
Large Animal Clinical Science, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Tennessee, 2407 River Dr, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2020, 10(9), 1563; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10091563
Received: 16 July 2020 / Revised: 27 August 2020 / Accepted: 1 September 2020 / Published: 2 September 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Equids)
Acute abdominal pain is a major cause for emergency treatment in horses and associated with a high stress level leading to an increased serum cortisol concentration. Stress can also be assessed by analyzing the heart rate variability (HRV). We investigated whether the stress level was different between horses with different causes of abdominal pain and, therefore, demanding a different treatment strategy. Heart rate, its variability in the time domain analyses, and cortisol level indicated a decrease in the stress level the day after admission and the day of discharge from the hospital in comparison to admission for both conservatively and surgically treated patients. However, such changes, over time, were not seen in horses that were euthanized during the hospitalization. Furthermore, the difference in the parameters measured between horses that were eventually euthanized and those that survived was best visible the day after admission. Therefore, we concluded that HRV can give further important information on the stress level in horses with colic and might be helpful in assessing possible outcome. However, further studies are required to assess the validity of HRV analyses in horses with colic.
Heart rate variability (HRV) is a noninvasive technique to detect changes in the autonomous nervous system. It has rarely been investigated in horses with colic. Therefore, the objective was to assess the evolution of HRV parameters and cortisol concentrations in horses with colic. The 43 horses included in this study were categorized into three groups according to the treatment (1, surgical; 2, conservative; 3, euthanized). The HRV and laboratory variables were measured at admission (T1), the day after admission (T2), and at discharge (T3) and compared between groups and over time with an ANOVA with Bonferroni correction. Relationships between the HRV parameters themselves and the laboratory variables was assessed by Pearson correlation coefficients. Evolution of the heart rate (HR) over time, mean normal to normal R intervals (meanNN) and cortisol concentrations indicate a decreased sympathetic stimulation over time in group 1 and 2, in contrast to group 3. For group 3, the meanNN and HR differed significantly to group 2 at T1 and to group 1 and 2 at T2. Treatment induced a change in the HRV and cortisol response in horses managed conservatively or surgically but not in horses that required euthanasia. However, further studies are required to assess the validity of HRV analyses in horses with colic. View Full-Text
Keywords: frequency domain; time domain; gastrointestinal diseases; equine; stress frequency domain; time domain; gastrointestinal diseases; equine; stress
MDPI and ACS Style

Gehlen, H.; Faust, M.-D.; Grzeskowiak, R.M.; Trachsel, D.S. Association between Disease Severity, Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Serum Cortisol Concentrations in Horses with Acute Abdominal Pain. Animals 2020, 10, 1563.

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