In fetuses and newborn infants heart rate variability changes in conditions of acute and chronic hypoxia; we therefore asked whether heart rate variability of infants born at high altitude differed from that of low-altitude infants. Short-term recordings (4–5 min) of inter-beat intervals were obtained in 19 infants in Lima (50 m altitude) and in 15 infants in Cerro de Pasco (4330 m, barometric pressure ∼ 450 mmHg, inspired oxygen pressure ∼ 94 mmHg) during quiet rest in warm conditions (ambient temperature, Ta, ∼ 35 °C). In 12 infants from each group recordings were also obtained during cooling (Ta ∼ 26 °C). Heart rate variability was evaluated from 512 consecutive inter-beat intervals, with analysis based on time-domain and frequency-domain methods. At warm Ta, heart rate variability did not differ between the two groups. During cooling, heart rate increased only in the low-altitude group. As in the warm, during cooling most parameters of heart rate variability did not differ between the two groups. The only exception was the inter-beat interval power of the high-frequency range of the spectrum (0.15–0.4 Hz), which, at least in adults, is believed to be a reflection of vagal activity, and was greater in the high-altitude group. It is concluded that gestation at high altitude, despite its blunting effects on fetal growth, does not have a major impact on heart rate variability of the newborn. Nevertheless, the possibility that differences in response to cooling may reflect some limitation in heart rate control needs to be examined further.

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