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Characterization of the Korotkoff sounds using joint time-frequency analysis

Lookup NU author(s): Professor John AllenORCiD, Dr John O'Sullivan, Susan King, Emeritus Professor Alan MurrayORCiD


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The sounds associated with the five classical Korotkoff phases are clinically important for measuring systolic and diastolic blood pressures. The frequency ranges of the sounds have already been described simply using the overall peak frequencies within each phase by Fourier methods. However, such analysis may be missing potentially useful clinical information. The aim of this study was to compare features associated with the different phases of the Korotkoff sounds obtained during blood pressure measurement using a joint time-frequency analysis (JTFA) technique. A single operator recorded Korotkoff sounds from 25 healthy subjects using a measurement system comprising cardiology stethoscope, microphone, amplifier and recording system for computer sound digitization, and a MiniDisc system for playback to the cardiologist for Korotkoff phase classification. We have shown that using this system the phase classification by the cardiologist is repeatable, with no significant differences found in the number of sounds allocated to phases on two separate recording assessments. The digitized sounds were processed using a MATLAB-based short-time Fourier transform JTFA technique and differences in time, frequency and amplitude characteristics between the phases compared. It was found that on average, phase III had the largest overall amplitude and high frequency energy. Phase II had the greatest high frequency component and longest murmur, and was visibly the most complex phase in terms of time and frequency content. In contrast, phases IV and V had the lowest amplitude and frequency components. Overall, the statistically significant transitions between phases were: phase I to II with increases in high frequency (224 to 275 Hz) (p < 0.01) and sound duration (49 to 98 ms) (p < 0.0001), II to III with a significant decrease in sound duration (to 37 ms) (p < 0.0001), III to IV with decreases in maximum amplitude (0.95 to 0.25), highest frequency (262 to 95 Hz), and relative high frequency energy of the sounds (0.61 to 0.10) (all p < 0.0001), and IV to V with decreases in the maximum amplitude (0.25 to 0.13) (p < 0.0002) and high frequency energy (0.10 to 0.03) (p < 0.005). This study has demonstrated that joint time-frequency analysis of Korotkoff sounds was able to identify characteristic differences associated with the different phases classified by the expert cardiologist. Ultimately, exploiting the joint time and frequency characteristics of the sounds may improve blood pressure measurement and help to assess the stiffness of the peripheral arteries.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Allen J, Gehrke T, O'Sullivan JJ, King ST, Murray A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Physiological Measurement

Year: 2004

Volume: 25

Issue: 1

Pages: 107-117

ISSN (print): 0967-3334

ISSN (electronic): 1361-6579

Publisher: Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd


DOI: 10.1088/0967-3334/25/1/010


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