Changes in ST, QT and RR ECG intervals during acute stress in firefighters: A pilot study

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Joana Isabel Paiva
Susana Cristina Rodrigues
João Paulo Cunha
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Firefighting is a stressful occupation. The monitoring of psychophysiological measures in those professionals can be a way to prevent and early detect cardiac diseases and other stress-related problems. The current study aimed to assess morphological changes in the ECG signal induced by acute stress. A laboratory protocol was conducted among 6 firefighters, including a laboratory stress-inducer task - the Trier Social Stress Task (TSST) - and a 2-choice reaction time task (CRTT) that was performed before (CRTT1) and after (CRTT2) the stress condition. ECG signals were continuously acquired using the VitalJacket®, a wearable t-shirt that acts as a medical certified ECG monitor. Results showed that ECG morphological features such as QT and ST intervals are able to differentiate stressful from non stressful events in first responders. Group mean Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) for stress assessment significantly increased after the stress task (TSST), relatively to the end of CRTT2 (after TSST: 4.67±1.63; after CRTT2: 3.17±0.75), a change that was accompanied by a significant increase in group mean QT and ST segments corrected for heart rate during TSST. These encouraging results will be followed by larger studies in order to explore those measures and its physiological impact under realistic environments in a higher scalability. © 2016 IEEE.