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Introduction to Controversial Topics in Nonlinear Science: Is the Normal Heart Rate Chaotic?
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In June 2008, the editors of Chaos decided to institute a new section to appear from time to time that addresses timely and controversial topics related to nonlinear science. The first of these deals with the dynamical characterization of human heart rate variability. We asked authors to respond to the following questions: Is the normal heart rate chaotic? If the normal heart rate is not chaotic, is there some more appropriate term to characterize the fluctuations (e.g., scaling, fractal, multifractal)? How does the analysis of heart rate variability elucidate the underlying mechanisms controlling the heart rate? Do any analyses of heart rate variability provide clinical information that can be useful in medical assessment (e.g., in helping to assess the risk of sudden cardiac death)? If so, please indicate what additional clinical studies would be useful for measures of heart rate variability to be more broadly accepted by the medical community. In addition, as a challenge for analysis methods, PhysioNet [A. L. Goldberger et al., “PhysioBank, PhysioToolkit, and PhysioNet: Components of a new research resource for complex physiologic signals,” Circulation101, e215–e220 (2000)] provided data sets from 15 patients of whom five were normal, five had heart failure, and five had atrial fibrillation (http://www.physionet.org/challenge/chaos/). This introductory essay summarizes the main issues and introduces the essays that respond to these questions.
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