1. Periodicities in cardiac interbeat interval may be resolved into discrete frequency components by applying Fourier analysis to heart rate time series. Low-frequency components (<0.15 Hz) are believed to be under parasympathetic and sympathetic control, whereas a higher frequency component in phase with respiration is believed to be entirely parasympathetic. The ratio of the power in the low-/high-frequency spectrum gives an estimate of sympathetic/para-sympathetic balance.

2. This study examined, using heart rate variability spectral analysis, the cardiac autonomic effects of breathing 30% N2O in normal subjects. While supine, the inhalation of N2O caused a significant fall in high-frequency power and a rise in the low-/high-frequency spectrum. During air breathing, tilting caused a significant rise in the mean blood pressure, heart rate, low-frequency power and low-/high-frequency spectrum. During N2O breathing, tilting caused a rise in the heart rate and the mean blood pressure, but no significant alteration in the power of individual spectral components. During tilting, the heart rate, the low-frequency and low-/high-frequency spectrum were less when breathing N2O than when breathing air.

3. These observations are consistent with the effect of N2O being an enhanced sympathetic balance of sinoatrial control, with the primary effect being through reduced parasympathetic tone. Enhanced sympathetic dominance of heart rate variability was seen on standing while subjects breathed air, but this effect was blunted with N2O.

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