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AbstractAutonomic nervous system dysfunction (ANSD) is a significant cause of mortality in tetanus. Currently diagnosis relies on non-specific clinical signs. Heart rate variability (HRV) may indicate underlying autonomic nervous system activity and represents a potentially valuable non-invasive tool for ANSD diagnosis in tetanus. HRV was measured from 3 5-minute ECG recordings during a 24-hour period in a cohort patients with severe tetanus, all receiving mechanical ventilation. HRV measurements from all subjects - 5 with ANSD (Ablett Grade 4) and 4 patients without ANSD (Ablett Grade 3) - showed HRV was lower than reported ranges for healthy individuals. Comparing different severities of tetanus, raw data for both time and frequency measurements of HRV were reduced in those with ANSD compared to those without. Differences were statistically significant in all except root mean square standard deviation RMSSD (p=0.07) indicating HRV may be a valuable tool in ANSD diagnosis.

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