Using Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback to Improve Attention and Memory in PTSD+ Combat Veterans


This study will test the effectiveness of Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Biofeedback as a therapeutic tool in the reduction of everyday memory problems routinely experienced by combat veterans with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The study is innovative in three ways: (1) through its investigation of the clinical use of a novel PTSD treatment technology, (2) by focusing on the understudied aspect of the daily functioning of PTSD veterans, and, (3) by investigating a heretofore untested application of biofeedback for PTSD induced deficits in attention (ATTN) and immediate memory (IM). Though HRV Biofeedback has proven successful for several applications in the general population, the idea that deficits in ATTN/IM in combat veterans with PTSD can be remedied by normalization of HRV has not yet been tested empirically. HRV is functionally incorporated into attentional processes, essentially operating as an index of autonomic flexibility and the ability to self-regulate in response to stimulation from the environment. Low HRV occurs in patients with PTSD, General Anxiety Disorder, and Coronary Artery Disease, and is correlated with negative affect and hostility. HRV Biofeedback training has been shown to be effective in increasing HRV in these groups of patients, as well as improving psychological well-being and physiological function in patients with Depression, Fibromyalgia, and Cardiovascular Disease. Therefore, the interrelationship between HRV and ATTN/IM problems in PTSD+ Combat veterans warrants further investigation. If HRV Biofeedback significantly improves ATTN/IM in these subjects, then it can be offered to VA clinicians treating combat PTSD as an effective new treatment tool.

Study Type

  • Study Type: Interventional
  • Study Design
    • Allocation: Randomized
    • Intervention Model: Factorial Assignment
    • Primary Purpose: Treatment
    • Masking: Single (Outcomes Assessor)
  • Study Primary Completion Date: December 2014


  • Behavioral: Biofeedback

Arms, Groups and Cohorts

  • Active Comparator: Biofeedback
    • HRV coherence biofeedback procedure
  • Sham Comparator: Sham intervention
    • Passive monitor viewing

Clinical Trial Outcome Measures

Primary Measures

  • Heart rate variability
    • Time Frame: completion
  • Attention and immediate memory
    • Time Frame: completion

Participating in This Clinical Trial

Inclusion Criteria

  • OIF/OEF veterans with PTSD

Exclusion Criteria

  • Neurologic disorder
  • Active substance abuse

Gender Eligibility: All

Minimum Age: 20 Years

Maximum Age: 40 Years

Are Healthy Volunteers Accepted: Accepts Healthy Volunteers

Investigator Details

  • Lead Sponsor
    • William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center
  • Collaborator
    • Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs
  • Provider of Information About this Clinical Study
    • Principal Investigator: J.P. Ginsberg, Ph.D., Principal Investigator – William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center

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