Can Wearable Devices Accurately Measure Heart Rate Variability? A Systematic Review

Konstantinos Georgiou 1 , Andreas V. Larentzakis 2 , Nehal N. Khamis 3 , Ghadah I. Alsuhaibani 3 , Yasser A. Alaska 3  and Elias J. Giallafos 4
  • 1 Department of Biological Chemistry, Faculty of Medicine, Athens, Greece
  • 2 1st Propaedeutic Surgical Clinic, Medical School, Athens, Greece
  • 3 Clinical Skills & Simulation Center, Department of Medical Education, College of Medicine, Riyadh
  • 4 Medical Physics Simulation Center, Medical School, Athens, Greece


Background: A growing number of wearable devices claim to provide accurate, cheap and easily applicable heart rate variability (HRV) indices. This is mainly accomplished by using wearable photoplethysmography (PPG) and/or electrocardiography (ECG), through simple and non-invasive techniques, as a substitute of the gold standard RR interval estimation through electrocardiogram. Although the agreement between pulse rate variability (PRV) and HRV has been evaluated in the literature, the reported results are still inconclusive especially when using wearable devices.

Aim: The purpose of this systematic review is to investigate if wearable devices provide a reliable and precise measurement of classic HRV parameters in rest as well as during exercise.

Materials and methods: A search strategy was implemented to retrieve relevant articles from MEDLINE and SCOPUS databases, as well as, through internet search. The 308 articles retrieved were reviewed for further evaluation according to the predetermined inclusion/exclusion criteria.

Results: Eighteen studies were included. Sixteen of them integrated ECG - HRV technology and two of them PPG - PRV technology. All of them examined wearable devices accuracy in RV detection during rest, while only eight of them during exercise. The correlation between classic ECG derived HRV and the wearable RV ranged from very good to excellent during rest, yet it declined progressively as exercise level increased.

Conclusions: Wearable devices may provide a promising alternative solution for measuring RV. However, more robust studies in non-stationary conditions are needed using appropriate methodology in terms of number of subjects involved, acquisition and analysis techniques implied.

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