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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Left Ventricular Hypertrophy May Be Transient in the Emergency Department


Background: While research has established that the bedside electrocardiogram (ECG) is an insensitive test for the presence or absence of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), the finding, when present, is thought to be reproducible.

Objective: To assess the reproducibility of serial ECGs done in the emergency department (ED) with regard to the presence or absence of LVH.

Method: A prospective study on consecutive patients admitted to an ED-run cardiac observation unit. A single reviewer collected and scored ECGs for the presence of LVH, using three established criteria (Cornell, Sokolow-Lyon and Romhilt-Estes). Demographic and medical history was also collected.

Results: Over a three-year time period, 295 patients were enrolled; 132 males and 163 females with a mean age of 54.4 years (range, 19-89 years). The prevalence of LVH ranged from 11-14% and the agreement among all three criteria was fair (kappa = 0.325). Using the Cornell criteria, 33 patients had ECG#1 consistent with LVH. Of the patients meeting LVH criteria on ECG #1, only 15 retained their diagnosis of LVH on ECG#2 (i.e. 55% of the LVH identified in ECG#1 was not seen in ECG#2). Additionally, nine patients developed an ECG diagnosis of LVH between ECG#1 and ECG#2. In total, 27 (nine percent of the total) had ECG measurements that changed between ECG#1 and ECG#2. We made similar findings with the Sokolow-Lyon and Romhilt-Estes criteria. The results were not modified by gender, blood pressure or medication use.

Conclusion: The finding of LVH on ECG was not very reproducible during serial measurements on the same person during a single 24-hour observation period.

[WestJEM. 2009;10:140-143]

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