Understanding Heart Rate Reactions to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Among Veterans: A Naturalistic Study

Mahnoosh Sadeghi, Farzan Sasangohar, Anthony D. McDonald, Sudeep Hegde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Objective: We collected naturalistic heart rate data from veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to investigate the effects of various factors on heart rate. Background: PTSD is prevalent among combat veterans in the United States. While a positive correlation between PTSD and heart rate has been documented, specific heart rate profiles during the onset of PTSD symptoms remain unknown. Method: Veterans were recruited during five cycling events in 2017 and 2018 to record resting and activity-related heart rate data using a wrist-worn device. The device also logged self-reported PTSD hyperarousal events. Regression analyses were performed on demographic and behavioral covariates including gender, exercise, antidepressants, smoking habits, sleep habits, average heart rate during reported hyperarousal events, age, glucocorticoids consumption, and alcohol consumption. Heart rate patterns during self-reported PTSD hyperarousal events were analyzed using Auto Regressive Integrated Moving Average (ARIMA). Heart rate data were also compared to an open-access non-PTSD representative case. Results: Of 99 veterans with PTSD, 91 participants reported at least one hyperarousal event, with a total of 1023 events; demographic information was complete for 38 participants who formed the subset for regression analyses. The results show that factors including smoking, sleeping, gender, and medication significantly affect resting heart rate. Moreover, unique heart rate patterns associated with PTSD symptoms in terms of stationarity, autocorrelation, and fluctuation characteristics were identified. Conclusion: Our findings show distinguishable heart rate patterns and characteristics during PTSD hyperarousal events. Application: These findings show promise for future work to detect the onset of PTSD symptoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)173-187
Number of pages15
JournalHuman Factors
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • PTSD
  • heart rate
  • mental disabilities
  • physiological measurement
  • stress
  • wearable sensors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human Factors and Ergonomics
  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Understanding Heart Rate Reactions to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Among Veterans: A Naturalistic Study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this