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Basic ECG

ECG Basics: Retrograde P Waves

Wed, 03/02/2016 - 23:04 -- Dawn

This Lead II rhythm strip is from a nine-year-old girl being monitored for an outpatient surgical procedure.  She has no known heart disease.  Her heart rate is 110 per minute.  The PR interval is .12 seconds (120 ms), the QRS is upright and narrow at .06 seconds (60 ms), and the rhythm is regular.

The most noticeable abnormality here is the RETROGRADE P WAVES.  In Lead II, normal P waves are upright.  In this case, the rhythm is being initiated in the lower atria, or possibly in the AV junction.  The impulse is traveling backward, or in a retrograde fashion, toward the SA node.  The electrical impulse travels forward, or in an antegrade direction, to produce a NORMAL QRS complex.  Retrograde P waves that are very close to the QRS, or within it, are presumed to occur from a junctional rhythm, as the impulse leaves the ectopic pacemaker and travels forward and backward at the same time.  When a normal PR interval is present, it is probably more likely that the impulse originated in the lower atrial tissue, and is delayed as it travels through the AV node.

This ECG abnormality is probably of no clinical significance in a healthy child, but should be worked up in a child with cardiac symptoms or complaints.  This strip is a very good one for illustrating retrograde and antegrade conduction to beginning students.

ECG Basics: Atrial Fibrillation With A Rapid Ventricular Response

Fri, 12/18/2015 - 23:11 -- Dawn

This ECG rhythm strip has all the hallmarks of atrial fibrillation:  the rhythm is irregularly irregular and there are no P waves.  The rate is about 150 beats per minute. There is no P wave because the atria are being irregularly depolarized by many ectopic pacemakers at once, causing the atria to "quiver".  This patient has new-onset atrial fib, and has been medicated with a calcium channel blocker.  The rate shows signs of slowing, but has not reached the target rate for this patient of less than 80 bpm.

At the onset of atrial fib, the rate is usually fast, because the AV node is being bombarded by numerous impulses from the atria.  The impulses arrive irregularly, and with different "strengths".  The AV node conducts as many impulses as it is able to, usually resulting in a rate over 110-120 bpm.  Medications can affect the rate, of course, and we use medications to slow AV conduction and allow a more normal heart rate.  

There are many methods of correcting atrial fib, not always with permanent success. Some patients tolerate this rhythm well as long as the rate is kept in check.  But others suffer a loss of cardiac output due to the loss of "atrial kick", which is the forceful filling of the ventricles by the contracting atria.  This loss of cardiac output can severely impair some people, making it necessary to try to convert the atrial fibrillation.  In addition, people living with atrial fib must be anticoagulated, as the loss of forceful emptying of the atria can cause collections of blood clots which can break free and embolize.

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