Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494

www.elsevier.com/locate/physa
Instantaneous frequency–time analysis of physiology signals:
The application of pregnant women’s radial artery pulse signals
Zhi-Yuan Su
a,∗
, Chuan-Chen Wang
b
, Tzuyin Wu
b
, Yeng-Tseng Wang
c
,
Feng-Cheng Tang
d
a
Department of Information Management, Chia Nan University of Pharmacy and Science, Tainan 717, Taiwan
b
Department of Mechanical Engineering, National Taiwan University, Taipei 106, Taiwan
c
National Center for High-performance Computing, Tainan 742, Taiwan
d
Changhua Christian Hospital, Changhua 500, Taiwan
Received 11 May 2007; received in revised form 8 August 2007
Available online 29 September 2007
Abstract
This study used the Hilbert–Huang transform, a recently developed, instantaneous frequency–time analysis, to analyze radial
artery pulse signals taken from women in their 36th week of pregnancy and after pregnancy. The acquired instantaneous
frequency–time spectrum (Hilbert spectrum) is further compared with the Morlet wavelet spectrum. Results indicate that the Hilbert
spectrum is especially suitable for analyzing the time series of non-stationary radial artery pulse signals since, in the Hilbert–Huang
transform, signals are decomposed into different mode functions in accordance with signal’s local time scale. Therefore, the Hilbert
spectrum contains more detailed information than the Morlet wavelet spectrum. From the Hilbert spectrum, we can see that radial
artery pulse signals taken from women in their 36th week of pregnancy and after pregnancy have different patterns. This approach
could be applied to facilitate non-invasive diagnosis of fetus’ physiological signals in the future.
c 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Hilbert–Huang transform; Intrinsic mode function; Empirical mode decomposition; Wavelet analysis; Radial artery pulse signal
1. Introduction
Most oscillation signals observed in nature and the physical world feature non-stationary and nonlinear
characteristics. The traditional Fourier spectral analysis can only provide global (average) energy frequency
distributions. Validity of such an analysis relies crucially on the assumption that the data are linear and stationary.
Fourier analysis is incapable of extracting local (instantaneous) time–frequency variation information embedded in
data originating from nonlinear systems or representing non-stationary phenomena. The time–frequency analysis
method [1] must aid in non-stationary signal analysis.
The wavelet transform [2] is a famous time–frequency analysis method. The wavelet transform calculates the inner
product of signals and the function ψ(
t −b
a
), called the “wavelet”. Altering scale a and central time location b of the

Corresponding author. Tel.: +886 6 2664911x5305; fax: +886 6 3660607.
E-mail address: zysu@mail.chna.edu.tw (Z.-Y. Su).
0378-4371/$ - see front matter c 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
doi:10.1016/j.physa.2007.09.013
486 Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494
wavelet function results in distributing each time signal’s energy on various scales. Wavelet transform is useful, but
has some disadvantages. For example, a series of wavelets representing various scales in the wavelet transform are
determined by a pre-selected wavelet function which is not in accordance with signal’s local time scale. Moreover,
wavelet transform also fails to provide a specific definition of instantaneous oscillation frequency for signals.
Huang et al. [3] suggest that signals be expanded into mode function combinations with inconstant frequencies
and amplitudes to overcome aforementioned problems. The method involves two major steps. The first decomposes
the original signal into a series of intrinsic mode functions (IMF) spanning from high frequency to low frequency
ranges via a sifting process signal. The second step applies the Hilbert transform to these IMF, yielding instantaneous
frequencies as time functions for each mode function. The final results present the Hilbert spectrum running along the
data string representing energy distribution over the frequency–time domain. The above method applies to nonlinear
and non-stationary data since the decomposition process (called the empirical mode decomposition, EMD in Ref. [3])
is based on local time scale of the reflecting nonlinear and non-stationary signal characteristics.
Huang et al. [4–11] apply the empirical mode decomposition approach on several signal examples, proving that this
method indeed excels the traditional Fourier and wavelet transform. In this study, we suggest a new application which
adopts instantaneous frequency–time analysis method to analyze pregnant women’s radial artery pulse signals. The
radial artery pulse carries much information about human body. Though the heart drives pulses, from a physiology
perspective, blood has to travel a long distance along the artery before reaching the radial. Therefore, the radial artery
pulse is not only influenced by the status of the heart, but can also be affected by other factors, including arterial
vessel characteristics and blood parameters. Pregnancy or malfunction of any one human organ, including the heart,
lungs, liver, kidneys, intestines and stomach may impose direct or indirect influence on the radial artery pulse system,
manifesting a certain radial artery pulse pattern.
2. Research methods
2.1. The Hilbert–Huang transform
For any time series X(t ) the Hilbert transform can be performed, to obtain another series Y(t )
Y(t ) =
1
π
_

−∞
X(t )
t −τ
dτ. (1)
The combination of X(t ) and Y(t ) can give a time series definition Z(t ) of complex number:
Z(t ) = X(t ) +iY(t ) = a(t )e
iθ(t )
(2)
in which a(t ) =
_
X
2
(t ) +Y
2
(t ) is the amplitude of this complex signal, θ(t ) = tan
−1 Y(t )
X(t )
is the signal oscillation
phase, and both are time functions. From the phase angle θ(t ) in Eq. (2), the instantaneous oscillation frequency X(t )
of time series X(t ) can be defined as:
ω(t ) =
dθ(t )
dt
. (3)
However, the instantaneous frequency value obtained by this approach still suffers some disadvantages [3]. First,
Eq. (3) is a single-valued function, which only defines one single frequency value at any moment and is inconsistent
with the general concept that a complicated signal is composed of multiple oscillation frequencies. Second, in many
cases, the instantaneous frequency ω(t ) obtained from the direct Hilbert transform of the signal has no physical
significance at all [3].
Huang et al. [3] obtained the following conclusion to find the physical significance of instantaneous frequency
as defined by Eq. (3). A time series featuring the physical significance of instantaneous frequency must satisfy two
conditions: (1) the number of extreme and zero crossings in the whole data set must either be equal or differ at most
by one; and (2) at any point, the mean value of the envelope defined by the local maxima and the envelope defined
by the local minima is zero. Huang et al. [3] proposed the following decomposition procedure to decompose any time
series X(t ) into the combination of a basic mode function that meets the above two requirements:
Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494 487
(1) First connect the local extremes of series X(t ) (including the maximum and minimum values) into two envelopes
in the upper and lower ends by means of a cubic spline, and then calculate the average curve of the two envelopes,
referred to as m
11
.
(2) Calculate the difference between series X(t ) and m
11
, referred to as d
11
.
d
11
= X(t ) −m
11
. (4)
In theory, series d
11
should basically approach the above two conditions. Otherwise, repeat step (1) on series d
11
;
in other words, calculate the average curve m
12
of the upper and lower envelopes of series d
11
before calculating
the difference between d
11
and m
12
.
d
12
= d
11
−m
12
. (5)
Usually, series d
12
is more symmetric than the previous series d
11
. Repeat the above procedures for k time to
obtain series d
1k
:
d
1k
= d
1k−1
−m
1k
. (6)
Series d
1k
can be viewed as a mode function and stated with the symbol M
1
if it satisfies the above two conditions.
As this function is derived from the signal itself, Huang et al. [3] named it the intrinsic mode function of the signal,
so as to distinguish it from the traditional Fourier harmonic mode function. In the decomposition process M
1
may
possibly work out the minimum time scale of the series, i.e., the message carried in the highest frequency.
(3) Decompose M
1
from signal X(t ); that is, calculate the difference between series X(t ) and M
1
, referred to as r
1
:
X(t ) − M
1
= r
1
. (7)
As series r
1
still contains middle- or low-frequency information to decompose, the above steps from (1) to (3)
should be repeated several times to filter out mode functions M
2
, M
3
, and so on, which represent signal messages
at various time scales.
r
1
− M
2
= r
2
, r
2
− M
3
= r
3
, . . . , r
n−1
− M
n
= r
n
. (8)
This procedure should be repeated until the final series r
n
no longer carries any oscillation message. The remaining
series is the trend of this non-stationary message X(t ). The sum of all the intrinsic mode functions and the final trend
is the signal X(t ):
X(t ) =
n

j =1
M
j
+r
n
. (9)
As the mode functions M
1
. . . M
n
basically satisfy the two preconditions that define an instantaneous frequency,
through the Hilbert transform in Eq. (1), the instantaneous oscillation frequency ω
j
(t ) and amplitude a
j
(t ) of each
mode function M
j
after transformation can be obtained, and the original signal X(t ) can be stated as:
X(t ) = Re
_
n

j =1
a
j
(t )e
i
_
ω
j
(t )
_
. (10)
In Eq. (10), if amplitude a
j
is stated as the function of time t and frequency ω
j
, an instantaneous frequency–time
spectrum, or Hilbert spectrum H(ω, t ) can be obtained. The square of amplitude a
2
j
can be considered as energy, so the
Hilbert spectrum H(ω, t ) accounts for energy distribution carried in signal X(t ) on each frequency at any moment t.
2.2. Continuous wavelet analysis
Any set of signals f (t ) can be processed by the continuous wavelet transform:
C
a,b
=
_

−∞
f (t )
1

a
ψ
_
t −b
a
_
dt. (11)
The C
a,b
is called the “wavelet coefficient”, which can be squared to represent the energy, a function of a and b.
488 Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494
If function ψ
a,b
(t ) is defined as:
ψ
a,b
(t ) =
1

a
ψ
_
t −b
a
_
(12)
in which
1

a
ensures that the “norms” of ψ
a,b
(t ) and ψ(t ) are equal, Eq. (12) can be applied to Eq. (11):
C
a,b
=
_

−∞
f (t )ψ
a,b
(t )dt. (13)
For any real number a or b, ψ
a,b
(t ) indicates the translation from ψ
a,0
(t ) along the time axis by b time units; in other
words, b stands for the translation of ψ
a,b
(t ) from ψ
a,0
(t ). ψ
a,0
(t ) can be defined as:
ψ
a,0
(t ) =
1

a
ψ
_
t
a
_
. (14)
It can be observed from Eq. (14) that a is the dilation of ψ
a,0
(t ). Therefore, a stands for scale, or “dilation factor”.
Mathematics defines the inner product of any two signals x(t ) and y(t ) with limited energy as:
x(t ), y(t ) =
_

−∞
x(t )y(t )dt. (15)
Similarly, the continuous wavelet transform can also be presented in the form of an inner product:
C
a,b
=
_
f (t ), ψ
a,b
(t )
_
. (16)
Even though frequency does not appear explicitly in Eq. (14), the equation below can be applied to transform a from
the scale domain into the frequency domain:
F
a
=
F
c
a · ∆
(17)
where a stands for scale, ∆is the signal sampling interval, F
c
stands for the center frequency of the wavelet function,
and F
a
is the virtual frequency at scale a. The virtual frequency obtained from a different time under the same scale
is a fixed value, so wavelet analysis suffers from the inability to define instantaneous frequency.
3. Results and discussion
A sensor made of piezoelectric material is connected to the multifunctional biological signal data collector,
ADInstrument, produced by PowerLab Company, to facilitate continuous measuring for 100 s at a data acquisition
rate of 200 per second. The subjects voluntarily participated in the test program and fully understood the contents and
purposes of tests. They also consented to allow researchers to disclose the results and data of tests, and which could be
used for publications or other research purposes. Because the timing of delivery is usually between 37 and 42 weeks
gestation, the subjects in their 36th week of pregnancy and after pregnancy were invited to participate in this study in
order to compare the differences of women’s pulse between before and after pregnancy. The radial artery pulse signals
of two female subjects were recorded in their 36th week of pregnancy and after pregnancy; then the abovementioned
empirical mode decomposition in conjunction with the Hilbert transform was performed. Results were also compared
with the spectrum obtained using the Morlet wavelet transform in addition to analysis and search for a difference in
subjects’ radial artery pulse patterns in their 36th week of pregnancy and after pregnancy.
Empirical mode decomposition applied on the radial artery pulse signal recorded in the 36th week of subject A’s
pregnancy (Fig. 1(a)) resulted in fourteen intrinsic mode functions and a trend (Fig. 2(a)) representing non-stationary
characteristics of the signals. On the other hand, radial artery pulse signals recorded after pregnancy (Fig. 1(b)) derived
sixteen intrinsic mode functions and the trend shown in Fig. 2(b). Comparison of the two reveals that the number of
intrinsic mode functions derived from the radial artery pulse pattern in the 36th week of pregnancy was two less than
that recorded after pregnancy. The heart beat pattern in the 36th week of pregnancy also appeared in the third mode,
M
3
, while the heart beat pattern after pregnancy appeared in the fourth mode, M
4
.
Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494 489
Fig. 1. Radial artery pulse signals of the subject. Signals were recorded while (a) in the 36th week and (b) after pregnancy of subject A; and (c) in
the 36th week and (d) after pregnancy of subject B.
The intrinsic mode function decomposed from the radial artery pulse signals can be processed via the Hilbert
transform in Eq. (1) and then combined with the mode function to obtain the Hilbert spectrum of subject A’s radial
artery pulse signal, i.e., Fig. 3(a) (in the 36th week of pregnancy) and Fig. 3(b) (after pregnancy). This Hilbert spectrum
is composed of fourteen (Fig. 3(a)) and sixteen (Fig. 3(b)) curves, each accounting for the variation of each mode
function’s instantaneous frequency with time. The size of the instantaneous amplitude a
2
j
(t ) for each mode function
is marked with different colors (red indicates a larger amplitude); so, color variation reveals radial artery pulse signal
energy distribution in the time domain and frequency domain. Fig. 3(a) indicates that radial artery pulse signals
recorded in the 36th week of pregnancy have most energy congregated in mode M
2
with frequency between 2 and
4.5 Hz, while radial artery pulse signal energy after pregnancy (Fig. 3(b)) is mainly distributed in the mode between 2
and 3 Hz (M
3
). This indicates that radial artery pulse signal energy during pregnancy transfers to higher frequencies.
Coverage of the second intrinsic mode function during pregnancy is roughly equal to coverage of the second and third
intrinsic mode function after pregnancy. In other words, the second and third modes of radial artery pulse signals after
pregnancy converge into a single mode with greater oscillation energy when the subject is pregnant. Average major
heart beat frequencies fall at around 1.6 Hz (96 beat/min) and 1.3 Hz (78 beat/min) (the smoother curves in Fig. 3(a)
and (b)), as Fig. 3(a) clearly shows.
Subject A responded that, fetal movement accompanied the latter half of measuring time when her radial artery
pulse signal (Fig. 1(a)) was measured in the 36th week of pregnancy. The Fig. 3(a) spectrum shows that the
490 Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494
Fig. 2. The intrinsic mode functions and radial artery pulse signal trend. Results decomposed the radial artery pulse signals recorded (a) in the 36th
week and (b) after pregnancy of subject A; (c) in the 36th week and (d) after pregnancy of subject B.
Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494 491
Fig. 2. (continued)
492 Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494
Fig. 3. Hilbert spectrum and wavelet spectrum of subjects’ radial artery pulse signals. Hilbert spectrum signals of subject A were obtained (a) in
the 36th week and (b) after pregnancy; wavelet spectrum of the same subject (c) in the 36th week and (d) after pregnancy. Hilbert spectrum of
subject B obtained (e) in the 36th week and (f) after pregnancy; and wavelet spectrum of the same subject obtained (g) in the 36th week and (h)
after pregnancy. (For interpretation of the references to colour in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)
concentrated energy frequency value did not remain a fixed value but demonstrated a tendency to increase. Therefore,
it is logical to consider that instantaneous frequency–time analysis can indeed capture signal changes with time.
Radial artery pulse signals (Fig. 1(c)) recorded in the 36th week of subject B’s pregnancy are decomposed
into sixteen intrinsic mode functions and a trend (Fig. 2(c)); and radial artery pulse signals when the subject
was not pregnant (Fig. 1(d)) are decomposed into fourteen intrinsic mode functions and a trend (Fig. 2(d)). The
instantaneous frequencies obtained from the fourth mode function M
4
when the subject is pregnant and M
5
when
Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494 493
Fig. 3. (continued)
the subject was not pregnant represent heart beat frequencies respectively. The Hilbert spectrum of subject B’s
radial artery pulse signal in the 36th week of pregnancy and after pregnancy are shown in Fig. 3(e) and (f)
respectively. We can see the difference from them. Finally, we summarize some mode functions’ meaning in
Table 1.
The wavelet analysis of radial artery pulse signals can be seen from the Morlet wavelet spectrum (Fig. 3(c) and
(d)) obtained from radial artery pulse signals of subject A (Fig. 1(a) and (b)), as well as the Morlet wavelet spectrum
(Fig. 3(g) and (h)) obtained from radial artery pulse signals (Fig. 1(c) and (d)) of subject B. A significant energy
concentration in two frequency regions, 1–2 Hz and 2–4 Hz (the red area in the diagram), are observable in the
spectrum when the two subjects were pregnant. The 1–2 Hz region represents the range of the mother’s heart beat
494 Z.-Y. Su et al. / Physica A 387 (2008) 485–494
Table 1
Summary of mode functions
36th week of pregnancy
Fetus’ heart beat Mother’s heart beat Respiration
Subject A Mode function M
2
M
3
M
7
Subject B Mode function M
3
M
4
M
8
After pregnancy
Subject A Mode function N/A M
4
M
8
Subject B Mode function N/A M
5
M
9
frequency. Normal heart rate of a human fetus is about 120–160 beats per minute, therefore the 2–4 Hz region
manifests fetal heart beat frequency.
The Morlet wavelet spectrum comparison obtained during subject A’s pregnancy stage reveals that energy spectrum
in the 36th week (Fig. 3(c)) of subject A’s radial artery pulse signals (Fig. 1(a)) shows that the energy in the
high-frequency regions is significantly higher than that of the low-frequency regions; on the contrary, when subject
A’s pregnancy is over (Fig. 3(d)), the energy in the low-frequency regions exceeds that of the high-frequency regions.
Spectra obtained during (Fig. 3(c)) and after (Fig. 3(d)) subject A’s pregnancy, indicate increased heart beat frequency
during pregnancy.
Both subjects A and B show energy distribution in the wavelet spectrum diagram roughly similar to that of the
aforementioned Hilbert spectrum. The wavelet spectrum however, has lower resolution than the Hilbert spectrum
whether in terms of time domain or frequency domain. The wavelet spectrum shows the energy distribution only. It
cannot provide information about instantaneous oscillation frequency and signal amplitude.
4. Conclusion
Human radial artery pulse signals present significant non-stationary and nonlinear characteristics, therefore
traditional signal analysis methods cannot provide ideal resolutions. The instantaneous frequency–time analysis was
used in this study to analyze radial artery pulse signals. The Hilbert spectrum analysis of subject A indicates that radial
artery pulse signal energy during pregnancy transfers to higher frequencies, and that the second and third modes of
radial artery pulse signals (after pregnancy) converge into one single mode. Major heart beat frequency averages
during and after pregnancy were about 1.6 Hz (96 beat/min) and 1.3 Hz (78 beat/min), respectively.
Signal comparisons in the 36th week of pregnancy for both subjects with the Hilbert–Huang approach reveals
that the third mode function of subject A represents heart beat frequency, while the fourth mode function of subject B
represents her heart beat frequency. The wavelet spectrum cannot display additional information about mode functions
such as respiration and heart beat. It has a lower resolution than the Hilbert spectrum even though subjects A and B
showed an energy distribution in the wavelet spectrum diagram roughly similar to that of the Hilbert spectrum.
The initial analysis result of this study supports our assumption that the instantaneous frequency–time spectrum
obtained from the Hilbert transform can indeed be applied to physiological signal analysis. This approach could be
applied to facilitate non-invasive diagnosis of fetus’ physiological signals in the future.
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