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Dawn's picture

Syncope and tachycardia

The patient:  This ECG is taken from a 55-year-old man whose wife called 911 because he had a syncopal episode.  When the paramedics arrived, he was conscious and alert, and denied any symptoms.  He gave a history of "cardiac", diabetes, and opiate abuse.  We do not know the nature of his cardiac history or his medications.  

It is difficult to pinpoint a definite diagnosis with this lack of information and a clearly abnormal ECG.  We will limit our discussion to listing the abnormalities seen:

The ECG rhythm:  There is a fast, regular rhythm that is supraventricular in origin (there are P waves).  When a supraventricular rhythm has a rate of about 150 per minute, we should ALWAYS consider ATRIAL FLUTTER WITH 2:1 CONDUCTION.  Atrial flutter produces P waves (flutter waves) at approximately 250-350 per minute.  The normal AV node is able to conduct half of these, at a rate of about 150 per minute. Atrial flutter with 2:1 conduction is the most common presentation of new-onset atrial flutter.  It is often missed by people who expect to see several flutter waves in a row, producing the "sawtooth pattern".  That being said, atrial flutter is usually discernable in at least a few leads if it is present.  We do not see any signs of flutter waves in this ECG.

That leaves us with a differential diagnosis of sinus tachycardia vs. one of the regular supraventricular tachycardias like reentrant tachycardias or atrial tachycardia.  Sinus tachycardia can be recognized by several features. If we are fortunate enough to witness the onset or offset of the fast rhythm, will will recognize sinus tachycardia by a "warm up" or gradual speeding up of the rate, and a "cool down", or gradual slowing.  On the other hand, SVTs often have abrupt onset and offset.  Sinus tachycardia often has a very obvious cause, such as hypovolemia, fever, pain, anxiety, vigorous exercise, or hypoxia.  Sinus tachycardia usually has a distinct, upright P wave in Lead II, and a clearly-seen, often negative, P wave in Lead V1.  This ECG does not show the onset of the tachycardia, and is not long enough to evaluate for rate changes. Lead II appears to have upright P waves on the downslope of the previous T waves. V1 has deeply negative P waves, and V4 has the most clearly-seen P waves.  Without being positive, this looks more like sinus tachycardia than a reentrant tachycardia.  It would help to know more about the patient's condition.

jer5150's picture

Jason's Blog: ECG Challenge of the Week for August 19-26. The value of a previous, comparative ECG.

Patient clinical data:  68-year-old black man.

(1.)  What "pseudo" clue in Fig. 1 clinches the source of the mechanism seen in Fig. 2?

jer5150's picture

Jason's Blog: ECG Challenge of the Week for July 8-15. Which lead do both of these ECGs share a “common-thread”?


Two more ECGs classified under the general heading:  “Tracing suggestive of   ____ ”.  I  like ECGs that strongly favor a very specific clinical disorder.

jer5150's picture

Jason's Blog: ECG Challenge of the Week for June 10-17. Why did the ventricular rate abruptly decrease?


From June 10, 2012:   As is the case with all practical blogs, I’m encouraging ECG Guru members to engage in active group participation.  Share your thoughts, observations, impressions, findings, and interpretations.  Feel free to compare notes with one another and pick each other’s brains.

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