Main The ECG Made Easy

The ECG Made Easy

0 / 0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?

For forty years The ECG Made Easy has been regarded as one of best introductory guides to the ECG. With over half a million sales and translations into a dozen languages, this book, hailed by the British Medical Journal as a "medical classic", has been a favourite of generations of medical students and nurses. It directs users of the electrocardiogram to straightforward and accurate identification of normal and abnormal ECG patterns. With the emphasis throughout on simplicity and practical application, this Eighth Edition will prove invaluable to all medical and health care staff who require clear, basic knowledge about the ECG.

This famous book encourages the reader to accept that the ECG is easy to understand and that its use is just a natural extension of taking the patient's history and performing a physical examination.

  • A practical and highly informative guide to a difficult subject.
  • Provides a full understanding of the ECG in the diagnosis and management of abnormal cardiac rhythms.
  • Emphasises the role of the full 12 lead ECG with realistic reproduction of recordings.
  • The unique page size allows presentation of all 12-lead ECGs across a single page for clarity.
  • Restructured into two clear sections, the first 'The Basics' explains the ECG in the simplest possible terms.
  • The new second section, 'Making the most of the ECG', has separate chapters on the ECG patterns that might be seen in healthy subjects and in patients presenting with chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations or syncope.
Year:
2013
Edition:
8
Publisher:
Churchill Livingstone
Language:
english
Pages:
208
ISBN 10:
0702046418
ISBN 13:
9780702046414
File:
PDF, 9.88 MB
Download (pdf, 9.88 MB)

You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me

 

Most frequently terms

 
1 comment
 
hamza
than for sharingkhgfxzsggfsduufdsfg
01 November 2016 (19:52) 

You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
1

This is Modern Art

ปี:
2000
ภาษา:
english
ไฟล์:
PDF, 24.13 MB
0 / 0
Figure 35. The structure of [M002(N2S2)].

The

ECG
Made Easy

For Elsevier
Content Strategist: Laurence Hunter
Content Development Specialist: Helen Leng
Project Manager: Louisa Talbott and Helius
Designer/Design Direction: Helius and Mark Rogers
Illustration Manager: Jennifer Rose
Illustrators: Helius and Gecko Ltd

The

ECG
Made Easy

EIGHTH EDITION

John R. Hampton
DM MA DPhil FRCP FFPM FESC
Emeritus Professor of Cardiology
University of Nottingham, UK

EDINBURGH LONDON NEW YORK OXFORD PHILADELPHIA ST LOUIS SYDNEY TORONTO 2013

Notices
Knowledge and best practice in this field are constantly changing.
As new research and experience broaden our understanding,
changes in research methods, professional practices, or medical
treatment may become necessary.
© 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in
any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including
photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval
system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Details on
how to seek permission, further information about the publisher’s
permissions policies and our arrangements with organizations such
as the Copyright Clearance Center and the Copyright Licensing
Agency, can be found at our website:
www.elsevier.com/permissions.
This book and the individual contributions contained in it are
protected under copyright by the publisher (other than as may be
noted herein).
First edition 1973
Second edition 1980
Third edition 1986
Fourth edition 1992

Fifth edition 1997
Sixth edition 2003
Seventh edition 2008
Eighth edition 2013

ISBN 978-0-7020-4641-4
International ISBN 978-0-7020-4642-1
e-book ISBN 978-0-7020-5243-9
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data
A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress

Printed in China

Practitioners and researchers must always rely on the; ir own
experience and knowledge in evaluating and using any information,
methods, compounds, or experiments described herein. In using
such information or methods they should be mindful of their own
safety and the safety of others, including parties for whom they
have a professional responsibility.
With respect to any drug or pharmaceutical products identified,
readers are advised to check the most current information
provided (i) on procedures featured or (ii) by the manufacturer of
each product to be administered, to verify the recommended dose
or formula, the method and duration of administration, and
contraindications. It is the responsibility of practitioners, relying on
their own experience and knowledge of their patients, to make
diagnoses, to determine dosages and the best treatment for each
individual patient, and to take all appropriate safety precautions.
To the fullest extent of the law, neither the publisher nor the author
assumes any liability for any injury and/or damage to persons or
property as a matter of products liability, negligence or otherwise, or
from any use or operation of any methods, products, instructions, or
ideas contained in the material herein.

1

Preface

The ECG Made Easy was first published in 1973,
and well over half a million copies of the first seven
editions have been sold. The book has been translated
into German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese,
Polish, Czech, Indonesian, Japanese, Russian and
Turkish, and into two Chinese languages. The aims
of this edition are the same as before: the book is
not intended to be a comprehensive textbook of
electrophysiology, nor even of ECG interpretation –
it is designed as an introduction to the ECG for
medical students, technicians, nurses and paramedics.
It may also provide useful revision for those who
have forgotten what they learned as students.
There really is no need for the ECG to be
daunting: just as most people drive a car without
knowing much about engines, and gardeners do not
need to be botanists, most people can make full use
of the ECG without becoming submerged in its
complexities. This book encourages the reader to
accept that the ECG is easy to understand and that
its use is just a natural extension of taking the patient’s
history and performing a physical examination.
The first edition of The ECG Made Easy (1973)
was described by the British Medical Journal as a

‘medical classic’. The book has been a favourite of
generations of medical students and nurses, and it
has changed a lot through progressive editions. This
eighth edition differs from its predecessors in that
it has been divided into two parts. The first part,
‘The Basics’ explains the ECG in the simplest
possible terms, and can be read on its own. It
focuses on the fundamentals of ECG recording,
reporting and interpretation, including the classical
ECG abnormalities. The second part, ‘Making the
most of the ECG’, has been expanded and divided
into three chapters. It makes the point that an ECG
is simply a tool for the diagnosis and treatment of
patients, and so has to be interpreted in the light of
the history and physical examination of the patient
from whom it was recorded. The variations that might
be encountered in the situations in which the ECG
is most commonly used are considered in separate
chapters on healthy subjects (where there is a wide
range of normality) and on patients presenting with
chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations or syncope.
The book is longer than the previous editions, but
that does not mean that the ECG has become more
difficult to understand.

v

Preface
The ECG Made Easy should help students to
prepare for examinations, but for the development
of clinical competence – and confidence – there is no
substitute for reporting on large numbers of clinical
records. Two companion texts may help those who
have mastered The ECG Made Easy and want to
progress further. The ECG in Practice deals with the
relationship between the patient’s history and
physical signs and the ECG, and also with the many
variations in the ECG seen in health and disease.
150 ECG Problems describes 150 clinical cases and
gives their full ECGs, in a format that encourages
the reader to interpret the records and decide on
treatment before looking at the answers.
I am extremely grateful to Mrs Alison Gale who
has not only been a superb copy editor but who has
also become an expert in ECG interpretation and
has made a major contribution to this edition and to

vi

previous ones. The expertise of Helius has been
crucial for the new layout of this 8th edition. I am also
grateful to Laurence Hunter, Helen Leng and Louisa
Talbott of Elsevier for their continuing support.
The title of The ECG Made Easy was suggested
more than 30 years ago by the late Tony Mitchell,
Foundation Professor of Medicine at the University
of Nottingham, and many more books have been
published with a ‘Made Easy’ title since then. I am
grateful to him and to the many people who have
helped to refine the book over the years, and
particularly to many students for their constructive
criticisms and helpful comments, which have reinforced
my belief that the ECG really is easy to understand.

John Hampton
Nottingham, 2013

1

Contents
Part I: The Basics
1. What the ECG is about

3

2. Conduction and its problems

36

3. The rhythm of the heart

56

4. Abnormalities of P waves, QRS complexes and T waves

85

Part II: Making the most of the ECG
5. The ECG in healthy subjects

105

6. The ECG in patients with chest pain or breathlessness

128

7. The ECG in patients with palpitations or syncope

151

8. Now test yourself

174

Index

194

vii

Further reading
The symbol

ECG
IP
indicates cross-references to useful information in the book The ECG in Practice, 6th edn.

viii

The basics
The fundamentals of ECG recording,
reporting and interpretation

Before you can use the ECG as an aid to
diagnosis or treatment, you have to understand
the basics. Part I of this book explains why the
electrical activity of the heart can be recorded
as an ECG, and describes the significance of
the 12 ECG ‘leads’ that make ‘pictures’ of the
electrical activity seen from different directions.

Part
I

Part I also explains how the ECG can be
used to measure the heart rate, to assess the
speed of electrical conduction through different
parts of the heart, and to determine the rhythm
of the heart. The causes of common ‘abnormal’
ECG patterns are described.

1

This page intentionally left blank

What the ECG is about
What to expect from the ECG

3

The electricity of the heart

4

The different parts of the ECG

4

The ECG – electrical pictures

9

The shape of the QRS complex

11

Making a recording – practical points

19

How to report an ECG

32

‘ECG’ stands for electrocardiogram, or
electrocardiograph. In some countries, the
abbreviation used is ‘EKG’. Remember:

∑ï
∑ï

By the time you have finished this book,
you should be able to say and mean ‘The
ECG is easy to understand’.
Most abnormalities of the ECG are
amenable to reason.

1

WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE ECG
Clinical diagnosis depends mainly on a patient’s
history, and to a lesser extent on the physical
examination. The ECG can provide evidence to
support a diagnosis, and in some cases it is
crucial for patient management. It is, however,
important to see the ECG as a tool, and not as
an end in itself.
The ECG is essential for the diagnosis, and
therefore the management, of abnormal cardiac
rhythms. It helps with the diagnosis of the cause
of chest pain, and the proper use of early
intervention in myocardial infarction depends
upon it. It can help with the diagnosis of the
cause of dizziness, syncope and breathlessness.
With practice, interpreting the ECG is a
matter of pattern recognition. However, the
ECG can be analysed from first principles if a
few simple rules and basic facts are remembered.
This chapter is about these rules and facts.

3

What the ECG is about
THE ELECTRICITY OF THE HEART

Fig. 1.1

The wiring diagram of the heart
The contraction of any muscle is associated
with electrical changes called ‘depolarization’,
and these changes can be detected by electrodes
attached to the surface of the body. Since all
muscular contraction will be detected, the
electrical changes associated with contraction
of the heart muscle will only be clear if the
patient is fully relaxed and no skeletal muscles
are contracting.
Although the heart has four chambers, from
the electrical point of view it can be thought of
as having only two, because the two atria
contract together (‘depolarization’), and then
the two ventricles contract together.

Atrioventricular node
Bundle of His

Sinoatrial node

Right bundle branch
Left bundle branch

THE WIRING DIAGRAM OF THE HEART

4

The electrical discharge for each cardiac cycle
normally starts in a special area of the right
atrium called the ‘sinoatrial (SA) node’ (Fig. 1.1).
Depolarization then spreads through the atrial
muscle fibres. There is a delay while
depolarization spreads through another special
area in the atrium, the ‘atrioventricular node’
(also called the ‘AV node’, or sometimes just
‘the node’). Thereafter, the depolarization
wave travels very rapidly down specialized
conduction tissue, the ‘bundle of His’, which
divides in the septum between the ventricles
into right and left bundle branches. The left
bundle branch itself divides into two. Within
the mass of ventricular muscle, conduction
spreads somewhat more slowly, through
specialized tissue called ‘Purkinje fibres’.

THE RHYTHM OF THE HEART
As we shall see later, electrical activation of the
heart can sometimes begin in places other than
the SA node. The word ‘rhythm’ is used to refer
to the part of the heart which is controlling the
activation sequence. The normal heart rhythm,
with electrical activation beginning in the SA
node, is called ‘sinus rhythm’.

THE DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE ECG
The muscle mass of the atria is small compared
with that of the ventricles, and so the electrical
change accompanying the contraction of the atria
is small. Contraction of the atria is associated
with the ECG wave called ‘P’ (Fig. 1.2). The

The different parts of the ECG
Fig. 1.2

Shape of the normal ECG, including a
U wave
R

T

P
Q

U

S

ventricular mass is large, and so there is a large
deflection of the ECG when the ventricles are
depolarized: this is called the ‘QRS’ complex.
The ‘T’ wave of the ECG is associated with the
return of the ventricular mass to its resting
electrical state (‘repolarization’).

1

The letters P, Q, R, S and T were selected in
the early days of ECG history, and were chosen
arbitrarily. The P Q, R, S and T deflections are
all called waves; the Q, R and S waves together
make up a complex; and the interval between
the S wave and the beginning of the T wave is
called the ST ‘segment’.
In some ECGs an extra wave can be seen on
the end of the T wave, and this is called a U wave.
Its origin is uncertain, though it may represent
repolarization of the papillary muscles. If a U
wave follows a normally shaped T wave, it can
be assumed to be normal. If it follows a flattened
T wave, it may be pathological (see Ch. 4).
The different parts of the QRS complex are
labelled as shown in Figure 1.3. If the first
deflection is downward, it is called a Q wave
(Fig. 1.3a). An upward deflection is called an R
wave, regardless of whether it is preceded by a
Q wave or not (Figs 1.3b and 1.3c). Any
deflection below the baseline following an R
wave is called an S wave, regardless of whether
there is a preceding Q wave (Figs 1.3d and 1.3e).

Fig. 1.3

Parts of the QRS complex
R

Q

Q
(a)

R

(b)

(c)

R

S
(d)

R

Q

S

(e)

(a) Q wave. (b, c) R waves.
(d, e) S waves

5

What the ECG is about
TIMES AND SPEEDS
ECG machines record changes in electrical
activity by drawing a trace on a moving paper
strip. ECG machines run at a standard rate of
25 mm/s and use paper with standard-sized
squares. Each large square (5 mm) represents
0.2 second (s), i.e. 200 milliseconds (ms) (Fig.
1.4). Therefore, there are five large squares per
second, and 300 per minute. So an ECG event,
such as a QRS complex, occurring once per
large square is occurring at a rate of 300/min.
The heart rate can be calculated rapidly by
remembering the sequence in Table 1.1.
Just as the length of paper between R waves
gives the heart rate, so the distance between the

different parts of the P–QRS–T complex shows
the time taken for conduction of the electrical
discharge to spread through the different parts
of the heart.
The PR interval is measured from the
beginning of the P wave to the beginning of the
QRS complex, and it is the time taken for
excitation to spread from the SA node, through
the atrial muscle and the AV node, down the
bundle of His and into the ventricular muscle.
Logically, it should be called the PQ interval,
but common usage is ‘PR interval’ (Fig. 1.5).
The normal PR interval is 120–220 ms,
represented by 3–5 small squares. Most of this
time is taken up by delay in the AV node (Fig. 1.6).

Fig. 1.4

Relationship between the squares on ECG paper and time. Here, there is one QRS complex
per second, so the heart rate is 60 beats/min
1 small square represents
0.04 s (40 ms)

1 large square represents
0.2 s (200 ms)

R–R interval:
5 large squares represent 1 s

6

The different parts of the ECG
Fig. 1.5

The components of the ECG complex
R
ST
segment
T

P
Q
PR interval

U

S
QRS
QT interval

If the PR interval is very short, either the
atria have been depolarized from close to
the AV node, or there is abnormally fast
conduction from the atria to the ventricles.

1

Table 1.1 Relationship between the number of
large squares between successive R waves and
the heart rate
R–R interval
(large squares)

Heart rate
(beats/min)

1

300

2

150

3

100

4

75

5

60

6

50

The duration of the QRS complex shows
how long excitation takes to spread through
the ventricles. The QRS complex duration is
normally 120 ms (represented by three small

Fig. 1.6

Normal PR interval and QRS complex
PR
0.18 s (180 ms)

QRS
0.12 s (120 ms)

7

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.7

Normal PR interval and prolonged QRS complex
PR
0.16 s (160 ms)

squares) or less, but any abnormality of
conduction takes longer, and causes widened
QRS complexes (Fig. 1.7). Remember that the
QRS complex represents depolarization, not
contraction, of the ventricles – contraction is
proceeding during the ECG’s ST segment.
The QT interval varies with the heart rate. It
is prolonged in patients with some electrolyte
abnormalities, and more importantly it is
prolonged by some drugs. A prolonged QT
interval (greater than 450 ms) may lead to
ventricular tachycardia.

CALIBRATION
A limited amount of information is given by
the height of the P waves, QRS complexes and
T waves, provided the machine is properly

8

QRS
0.20 s (200 ms)

Fig. 1.8

Calibration of the ECG recording

1 cm

calibrated. A standard signal of 1 millivolt (mV)
should move the stylus vertically 1 cm (two
large squares) (Fig. 1.8), and this ‘calibration’
signal should be included with every record.

The ECG – electrical pictures
THE ECG – ELECTRICAL PICTURES
The word ‘lead’ sometimes causes confusion.
Sometimes it is used to mean the pieces of wire
that connect the patient to the ECG recorder.
Properly, a lead is an electrical picture of the
heart.
The electrical signal from the heart is
detected at the surface of the body through
electrodes, which are joined to the ECG

Table 1.2 ECG leads
Lead

Comparison of electrical activity

I

LA and RA

II

LL and RA

III

LL and LA

VR

RA and average of (LA + LL)

VL

LA and average of (RA + LL)

VF

LL and average of (LA + RA)

V1

V1 and average of (LA + RA + LL)

V2

V2 and average of (LA + RA + LL)

V3

V3 and average of (LA + RA + LL)

V4

V4 and average of (LA + RA + LL)

V5

V5 and average of (LA + RA + LL)

V6

V6 and average of (LA + RA + LL)

Key: LA, left arm; RA, right arm; LL, left leg.

1

recorder by wires. One electrode is attached to
each limb, and six to the front of the chest.
The ECG recorder compares the electrical
activity detected in the different electrodes,
and the electrical picture so obtained is called a
‘lead’. The different comparisons ‘look at’ the
heart from different directions. For example,
when the recorder is set to ‘lead I’ it is comparing
the electrical events detected by the electrodes
attached to the right and left arms. Each lead
gives a different view of the electrical activity
of the heart, and so a different ECG pattern.
Strictly, each ECG pattern should be called
‘lead ...’, but often the word ‘lead’ is omitted.
The ECG is made up of 12 characteristic
views of the heart, six obtained from the ‘limb’
leads (I, II, III, VR, VL, VF) and six from the
‘chest’ leads (V1–V6). It is not necessary to
remember how the leads (or views of the heart)
are derived by the recorder, but for those who
like to know how it works, see Table 1.2. The
electrode attached to the right leg is used as an
earth, and does not contribute to any lead.

THE 12-LEAD ECG
ECG interpretation is easy if you remember the
directions from which the various leads look at
the heart. The six ‘standard’ leads, which are
recorded from the electrodes attached to the
limbs, can be thought of as looking at the heart
in a vertical plane (i.e. from the sides or the
feet) (Fig. 1.9).

9

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.9

The ECG patterns recorded by the six ‘standard’ leads

VL
VR

I

III

II

VF

Leads I, II and VL look at the left lateral
surface of the heart, leads III and VF at the
inferior surface, and lead VR looks at the right
atrium.
The six V leads (V1–V6) look at the heart
in a horizontal plane, from the front and the

10

left side. Thus, leads V1 and V2 look at the
right ventricle, V3 and V4 look at the septum
between the ventricles and the anterior wall of
the left ventricle, and V5 and V6 look at the
anterior and lateral walls of the left ventricle
(Fig. 1.10).

The shape of the QRS complex

1

Fig. 1.10

The relationship between the six chest leads and the heart

V6

LV
RV

V5
V4
V1

V2

As with the limb leads, the chest leads each
show a different ECG pattern (Fig. 1.11). In
each lead the pattern is characteristic, being
similar in individuals who have normal hearts.
The cardiac rhythm is identified from
whichever lead shows the P wave most clearly –
usually lead II. When a single lead is recorded
simply to show the rhythm, it is called a
‘rhythm strip’, but it is important not to make
any diagnosis from a single lead, other than
identifying the cardiac rhythm.

V3

THE SHAPE OF THE QRS COMPLEX
We now need to consider why the ECG has a
characteristic appearance in each lead.

THE QRS COMPLEX IN THE LIMB LEADS
The ECG machine is arranged so that when a
depolarization wave spreads towards a lead the
stylus moves upwards, and when it spreads away
from the lead the stylus moves downwards.

11

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.11

The ECG patterns recorded by the chest leads

V1

12

V2

V3

V4

V5

V6

The shape of the QRS complex
Depolarization spreads through the heart in
many directions at once, but the shape of the
QRS complex shows the average direction in
which the wave of depolarization is spreading
through the ventricles (Fig. 1.12).
If the QRS complex is predominantly upward,
or positive (i.e. the R wave is greater than the S
wave), the depolarization is moving towards that

1

lead (Fig. 1.12a). If predominantly downward,
or negative (the S wave is greater than the R
wave), the depolarization is moving away from
that lead (Fig. 1.12b). When the depolarization
wave is moving at right angles to the lead, the
R and S waves are of equal size (Fig. 1.12c). Q
waves, when present, have a special significance,
which we shall discuss later.

Fig. 1.12

Depolarization and the shape of the QRS complex
R

R
R

S
S
(a)

(b)

S
(c)

Depolarization (a) moving towards the lead,
causing a predominantly upward QRS complex;
(b) moving away from the lead, causing a
predominantly downward QRS complex;
and (c) at right angles to the lead, generating
equal R and S waves

13

What the ECG is about
THE CARDIAC AXIS
Leads VR and II look at the heart from opposite
directions. When seen from the front, the
depolarization wave normally spreads through
the ventricles from 11 o’clock to 5 o’clock, so
the deflections in lead VR are normally mainly
downward (negative) and in lead II mainly
upward (positive) (Fig. 1.13).
The average direction of spread of the
depolarization wave through the ventricles as
seen from the front is called the ‘cardiac axis’.
It is useful to decide whether this axis is in a

normal direction or not. The direction of the
axis can be derived most easily from the QRS
complex in leads I, II and III.
A normal 11 o’clock–5 o’clock axis means
that the depolarizing wave is spreading towards
leads I, II and III, and is therefore associated
with a predominantly upward deflection in all
these leads; the deflection will be greater in
lead II than in I or III (Fig. 1.14).
When the R and S waves of the QRS complex
are equal, the cardiac axis is at right angles to
that lead.

Fig. 1.13

The cardiac axis
Fig. 1.14

The normal axis
VL

VR

I

I
III

VF

II

14

III

II

The shape of the QRS complex
If the right ventricle becomes hypertrophied,
it has more effect on the QRS complex than
the left ventricle, and the average depolarization
wave – the axis – will swing towards the right.
The deflection in lead I becomes negative
(predominantly downward) because depolarization
is spreading away from it, and the deflection in
lead III becomes more positive (predominantly
upward) because depolarization is spreading
towards it (Fig. 1.15). This is called ‘right axis
deviation’. It is associated mainly with pulmonary
conditions that put a strain on the right side of
the heart, and with congenital heart disorders.

When the left ventricle becomes hypertrophied,
it exerts more influence on the QRS complex
than the right ventricle. Hence, the axis may
swing to the left, and the QRS complex
becomes predominantly negative in lead III
(Fig. 1.16). ‘Left axis deviation’ is not
significant until the QRS complex deflection is
also predominantly negative in lead II.
Although left axis deviation can be due to
excess influence of an enlarged left ventricle, in
fact this axis change is usually due to a
conduction defect rather than to increased bulk
of the left ventricular muscle (see Ch. 2).

Fig. 1.15

Fig. 1.16

Right axis deviation

Left axis deviation

I

I

III

II

1

III

II

15

What the ECG is about
The cardiac axis is sometimes measured in
degrees (Fig. 1.17), though this is not clinically
particularly useful. Lead I is taken as looking at
the heart from 0°; lead II from +60°; lead VF
from +90°; and lead III from +120°. Leads VL
and VR look from –30° and –150°, respectively.
The normal cardiac axis is in the range –30°
to +90°. If in lead II the S wave is greater than
the R wave, the axis must be more than 90°
away from lead II. In other words, it must be

at a greater angle than –30°, and closer to the
vertical (see Figs 1.16 and 1.17), and left axis
deviation is present. Similarly, if the size of the
R wave equals that of the S wave in lead I, the
axis is at right angles to lead I or at +90°. This
is the limit of normality towards the ‘right’. If
the S wave is greater than the R wave in lead
I, the axis is at an angle of greater than +90°,
and right axis deviation is present (Fig. 1.15).

WHY WORRY ABOUT THE CARDIAC AXIS?
Fig. 1.17

The cardiac axis and lead angles
–90°
Left axis
deviation

VR
–150°

–180°
+180°

VL
–30°

0° I

Right and left axis deviation in themselves are
seldom significant – minor degrees occur in tall,
thin individuals and in short, fat individuals,
respectively. However, the presence of axis
deviation should alert you to look for other
signs of right and left ventricular hypertrophy
(see Ch. 4). A change in axis to the right may
suggest a pulmonary embolus, and a change to
the left indicates a conduction defect.

THE QRS COMPLEX IN THE V LEADS
The shape of the QRS complex in the chest (V)
leads is determined by two things:

Right axis
deviation

∑
+120°
III

+90°
VF

Limit of the normal
cardiac axis

16

+60°
II

∑

The septum between the ventricles is
depolarized before the walls of the
ventricles, and the depolarization wave
spreads across the septum from left to right.
In the normal heart there is more muscle in
the wall of the left ventricle than in that of
the right ventricle, and so the left ventricle
exerts more influence on the ECG pattern
than does the right ventricle.

The shape of the QRS complex
Leads V1 and V2 look at the right ventricle;
leads V3 and V4 look at the septum; and leads
V5 and V6 at the left ventricle (Fig. 1.10).
In a right ventricular lead the deflection is first
upwards (R wave) as the septum is depolarized.
In a left ventricular lead the opposite pattern
is seen: there is a small downward deflection
(‘septal’ Q wave) (Fig. 1.18).
In a right ventricular lead there is then a
downward deflection (S wave) as the main muscle
mass is depolarized – the electrical effects in the
bigger left ventricle (in which depolarization is
spreading away from a right ventricular lead)
outweighing those in the smaller right ventricle.

1

In a left ventricular lead there is an upward
deflection (R wave) as the ventricular muscle is
depolarized (Fig. 1.19).
When the whole of the myocardium is
depolarized, the ECG trace returns to the
baseline (Fig. 1.20).
The QRS complex in the chest leads shows
a progression from lead Vl, where it is
predominantly downward, to lead V6, where it
is predominantly upward (Fig. 1.21). The
‘transition point’, where the R and S waves are
equal, indicates the position of the interventricular
septum.

Fig. 1.18

Fig. 1.19

Shape of the QRS complex: first stage

Shape of the QRS complex: second stage
R
Q

V6

V6

R
S

V1

V1

17

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.20

Shape of the QRS complex: third stage
R

Q
V6

R

S
V1

Fig. 1.21

The ECG patterns recorded by the chest leads
V1

18

V2

V3

V4

V5

V6

Making a recording – practical points
WHY WORRY ABOUT THE TRANSITION
POINT?
If the right ventricle is enlarged, and occupies
more of the precordium than is normal, the
transition point will move from its normal
position of leads V3/V4 to leads V4/V5 or
sometimes leads V5/V6. Seen from below, the
heart can be thought of as having rotated in a
clockwise direction. ‘Clockwise rotation’ in the
ECG is characteristic of chronic lung disease.

MAKING A RECORDING – PRACTICAL
POINTS
Now that you know what an ECG should look
like, and why it looks the way it does, we need
to think about the practical side of making a
recording. Some, but not all, ECG recorders
produce a ‘rhythm strip’, which is a continuous
record, usually of lead II. This is particularly
useful when the rhythm is not normal. The
next series of ECGs were all recorded from a
healthy subject whose ‘ideal’ ECG is shown in
Figure 1.22.

1

It is really important to make sure that the
electrode marked LA is indeed attached to the
left arm, RA to the right arm and so on. If the
limb electrodes are wrongly attached, the
12-lead ECG will look very odd (Fig. 1.23). It
is possible to interpret the ECG, but it is easier
to recognize that there has been a mistake, and
to repeat the recording.
Reversal of the leg electrodes does not make
much difference to the ECG.
The chest electrodes need to be accurately
positioned, so that abnormal patterns in the V
leads can be identified, and so that records
taken on different occasions can be compared.
Identify the second rib interspace by feeling for
the sternal angle – this is the point where the
manubrium and the body of the sternum meet,
and there is usually a palpable ridge where the
body of the sternum begins, angling downwards
in comparison to the manubrium. The second
rib is attached to the sternum at the angle, and
the second rib space is just below this. Having
identified the second space, feel downwards for
the third and then the fourth rib spaces, over
which the electrodes for V1 and V2 are attached,
to the right and left of the sternum, respectively.

19

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.22
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

II

A good record of a normal ECG
Note

∑ The upper three traces show the six limb leads (I, II, III, VR, VL, VF) and then the six chest leads
∑ The bottom trace is a ‘rhythm strip’, entirely recorded from lead II (i.e. no lead changes)
∑ The trace is clear, with P waves, QRS complexes and T waves visible in all leads

20

Making a recording – practical points

1

Fig. 1.23
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

The effect of reversing the electrodes attached to the left and right arms
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

Compare with Figure 1.22, correctly recorded from the same patient
Inverted P waves in lead I
Abnormal QRS complexes and T waves in lead I
Upright T waves in lead VR are most unusual

21

What the ECG is about
The other electrodes are then placed as shown
in Figure 1.24, with V4 in the midclavicular line
(the imaginary vertical line starting from the
midpoint of the clavicle); V5 in the anterior
axillary line (the line starting from the fold of
skin that marks the front of the armpit); and V6
in the midaxillary line.

Good electrical contact between the
electrodes and the skin is essential. The effects
on the ECG of poor skin contact are shown in
Figure 1.25. The skin must be clean and dry –
in any patient using creams or moisturizers
(such as patients with skin disorders) it should
be cleaned with alcohol; the alcohol must be

Fig. 1.24

The positions of the chest leads: note the fourth and fifth rib spaces
Midclavicular line
Anterior axillary line
Midaxillary line

4th
5th

V1

22

V2

V3

V4

V5

V6

Making a recording – practical points
wiped off before the electrodes are applied.
Abrasion of the skin is essential; in most
patients all that is needed is a rub with a paper
towel. In exercise testing, when the patient is
likely to become sweaty, abrasive pads may be
used – for these tests it is worth spending time
to ensure good contact, because in many cases

1

the ECG becomes almost unreadable towards
the end of the test. Hair is a poor conductor of
the electrical signal and prevents the electrodes
from sticking to the skin. Shaving may be
preferable, but patients may not like this – if
the hair can be parted and firm contact made
with the electrodes, this is acceptable. After

Fig. 1.25
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

II

The effect of poor electrode contact
Note

∑ Bizarre ECG patterns
∑ In the rhythm strip (lead II), the patterns vary

23

What the ECG is about
shaving, the skin will need to be cleaned with
alcohol or a soapy wipe.
Even with the best of ECG recorders, electrical
interference can cause regular oscillation in the
ECG trace, at first sight giving the impression
of a thickened baseline (Fig. 1.26). It can be

extremely difficult to work out where electrical
interference may be coming from, but think
about electric lights, and electric motors on beds
and mattresses.
ECG recorders are normally calibrated so
that 1 mV of signal causes a deflection of 1 cm

Fig. 1.26
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

The effect of electrical interference
Note

∑ Regular sharp high-frequency spikes, giving the appearance of a thick baseline

24

Making a recording – practical points
on the ECG paper, and a calibration signal
usually appears at the beginning (and often also
at the end) of a record. If the calibration setting
is wrong, the ECG complexes will look too
large or too small (Figs 1.27 and 1.28). Large
complexes may be confused with left ventricular

1

hypertrophy (see Ch. 4), and small complexes
might suggest that there is something like a
pericardial effusion reducing the electrical
signal from the heart. So, check the calibration.
ECG recorders are normally set to run at a
paper speed of 25 mm/s, but they can be altered

Fig. 1.27
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

The effect of over-calibration
Note

∑ The calibration signal (1 mV) at the left-hand end of each line causes a deflection of 2 cm
∑ All the complexes are large compared with an ECG recorded with the correct calibration (e.g. Fig. 1.22,
in which 1 mV causes a deflection of 1 cm)

25

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.28
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

The effect of under-calibration
Note

∑ The calibration signal (1 mV) causes a deflection of 0.5 cm
∑ All the complexes are small

26

Making a recording – practical points
to run at slower speeds (which make the
complexes appear spiky and bunched together)
or to 50 mm/s (Figs 1.29 and 1.30). The faster
speed is used regularly in some European
countries, and makes the ECG look ‘spread out’.
In theory this can make the P wave easier to see,
but in fact flattening out the P wave tends to
hide it, and so this fast speed is seldom useful.
ECG recorders are ‘tuned’ to the electrical
frequency generated by heart muscle, but they
will also detect the contraction of skeletal
muscle. It is therefore essential that a patient is
relaxed, warm and lying comfortably – if they
are moving or shivering, or have involuntary

1

movements such as those of Parkinson’s disease,
the recorder will pick up a lot of muscular
activity, which in extreme cases can mask the
ECG (Figs 1.31 and 1.32).
So, the ECG recorder will do most of the
work for you – but remember to:

∑ï
∑ï
∑ï
∑ï

attach the electrodes to the correct limbs
ensure good electrical contact
check the calibration and speed settings
get the patient comfortable and relaxed.

Then just press the button, and the recorder
will automatically provide a beautiful 12-lead
ECG.

27

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.29
I

VR

II

VL

III

VF

Normal ECG recorded with a paper speed of 50 mm/s
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

28

A paper speed of 50 mm/s is faster than normal
Long interval between QRS complexes gives the impression of a slow heart rate
Widened QRS complexes
Apparently very long QT interval

Making a recording – practical points

V1

V4

V2

V5

V3

V6

1

29

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.30
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

A normal ECG recorded with a paper speed of 12.5 mm/s
Note

∑ A paper speed of 12.5 mm/s is slower than normal
∑ QRS complexes are close together, giving the impression of a rapid heart rate
∑ P waves, QRS complexes and T waves are all narrow and ‘spiky’

30

Making a recording – practical points

1

Fig. 1.31
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

An ECG from a subject who is not relaxed
Note

∑ Same subject as in Figs 1.22–1.30
∑ The baseline is no longer clear, and is replaced by a series of sharp irregular spikes – particularly
marked in the limb leads

31

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.32
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

The effect of shivering
Note

∑ The spikes are more exaggerated than when a patient is not relaxed
∑ The sharp spikes are also more synchronized, because the skeletal muscle groups are contracting together
∑ The effects of skeletal muscle contraction almost obliterate those of cardiac muscle contraction in leads
I, II and III

HOW TO REPORT AN ECG

32

Many ECG recorders automatically provide a
report, and in these reports the heart rate and
the conducting intervals are usually accurately
measured. However, the description of the
rhythm and of the QRS and T patterns should
be regarded with suspicion. Recorders tend to
‘over-report’, and to describe abnormalities where
none exist: it is much better to be confident in
your own reporting.

You now know enough about the ECG to
understand the basis of a report. This should
take the form of a description followed by an
interpretation.
The description should always be given in
the same sequence:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Rhythm
Conduction intervals
Cardiac axis
A description of the QRS complexes
A description of the ST segments and T waves.

How to report an ECG

1

Fig. 1.33
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Variant of a normal ECG
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑
∑

Sinus rhythm, rate 50/min
Normal PR interval (100 ms)
Normal QRS complex duration (120 ms)
Normal cardiac axis
Normal QRS complexes

∑ Normal T waves (an inverted T wave in lead VR is normal)
∑ Prominent (normal) U waves in leads V2–V4
Interpretation

∑ Normal ECG

Reporting a series of totally normal findings
is possibly pedantic, and in real life this is
frequently not done. However, you must think
about all the findings every time you interpret
an ECG.
The interpretation of an ECG indicates
whether the record is normal or abnormal: if

abnormal, the underlying pathology needs to
be identified. One of the main problems of
ECG reporting is that there is quite a lot of
variation in the normal ECG. Figures 1.33 and
1.34 are examples of 12-lead ECGs showing
normal variants.

33

What the ECG is about
Fig. 1.34
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Variant of a normal ECG

34

Note

Interpretation

∑
∑
∑
∑
∑
∑

∑ Normal ECG – apart from right axis deviation,

Sinus rhythm, rate 75/min
Normal PR interval (200 ms)
Normal QRS complex duration (120 ms)
Right axis deviation (prominent S wave in lead I)
Normal QRS complexes
Normal ST segments and T waves

which could be normal in a tall, thin person

Reminders

1

REMINDERS
BASIC PRINCIPLES

∑ The ECG results from electrical changes
∑
∑

associated with activation (depolarization)
first of the atria and then of the ventricles.
Atrial depolarization causes the P wave.
Ventricular depolarization causes the QRS
complex. If the first deflection is downward,
it is a Q wave. Any upward deflection is an
R wave. A downward deflection after an R
wave is an S wave.
R

∑ The cardiac axis is the average direction of
∑

∑
∑
∑

Q S

∑ When the depolarization wave spreads

∑

towards a lead, the deflection is predominantly
upward. When the wave spreads away from
a lead, the deflection is predominantly
downward.
The six limb leads (I, II, III, VR, VL and VF) look
at the heart from the sides and the feet in a
vertical plane.

spread of depolarization as seen from the
front, and is estimated from leads I, II and III.
The chest or V leads look at the heart from
the front and the left side in a horizontal
plane. Lead V1 is positioned over the right
ventricle, and lead V6 over the left ventricle.
The septum is depolarized from the left
side to the right.
In a normal heart the left ventricle exerts
more influence on the ECG than the right
ventricle.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of minor
variations in ECGs which are consistent
with perfectly normal hearts. Recognizing
the limits of normality is one of the main
difficulties of ECG interpretation.

ECG
IP
For more on
normal variants
of the ECG,
see Ch. 1

35

2

Conduction and
its problems

Conduction problems in the AV node and
His bundle

37

Conduction problems in the right and left
bundle branches – bundle branch block

43

Conduction problems in the distal parts
of the left bundle branch

49

What to do

54

We have already seen that electrical
depolarization normally begins in the sinoatrial
(SA) node, and that a wave of depolarization
spreads outwards through the atrial muscle to
the atrioventricular (AV) node, and thence
down the His bundle and its branches to the

36

ventricles. The conduction of this wave front
can be delayed or blocked at any point.
However, conduction problems are simple to
analyse, provided you keep the wiring diagram
of the heart constantly in mind (Fig. 2.1).
We can think of conduction problems in the
order in which the depolarization wave normally
spreads: SA node Æ AV node Æ His bundle Æ
bundle branches. Remember in all that follows
that we are assuming depolarization begins in
the normal way in the SA node.
The rhythm of the heart is best interpreted
from whichever ECG lead shows the P wave
most clearly. This is usually, but not always, lead
II or lead V1. You can assume that all the
‘rhythm strips’ in this book were recorded from
one of these leads.

Problems in the AV node and His bundle

2

Fig. 2.1

The wiring diagram of the heart
Sinoatrial node
Bundle of His
Atrioventricular node
Left bundle branch
Right bundle branch

CONDUCTION PROBLEMS IN THE AV
NODE AND HIS BUNDLE
The time taken for the spread of depolarization
from the SA node to the ventricular muscle
is shown by the PR interval (see Ch. 1), and is
not normally greater than 220 ms (six small
squares).
Interference with the conduction process
causes the phenomenon called ‘heart block’.

FIRST DEGREE HEART BLOCK
If each wave of depolarization that originates in
the SA node is conducted to the ventricles, but
there is delay somewhere along the conduction
pathway, then the PR interval is prolonged.
This is called ‘first degree heart block’ (Fig. 2.2).
First degree heart block is not in itself
important, but it may be a sign of coronary artery
disease, acute rheumatic carditis, digoxin toxicity
or electrolyte disturbances.

37

Conduction and its problems
Fig. 2.2

First degree heart block
PR
360 ms

Note

∑ One P wave per QRS complex
∑ PR interval 360 ms

SECOND DEGREE HEART BLOCK
Sometimes excitation completely fails to pass
through the AV node or the bundle of His.
When this occurs intermittently, ‘second degree
heart block’ is said to exist. There are three
variations of this:
1. There may be progressive lengthening of the
PR interval and then failure of conduction
of an atrial beat, followed by a conducted
beat with a shorter PR interval and then
a repetition of this cycle. This is the
‘Wenckebach’ or ‘Mobitz type 1’
phenomenon (Fig. 2.3).
2. Most beats are conducted with a constant
PR interval, but occasionally there is atrial

38

depolarization without a subsequent
ventricular depolarization. This is called
the ‘Mobitz type 2’ phenomenon (Fig. 2.4).
3. There may be alternate conducted
and nonconducted atrial beats (or one
conducted atrial beat and then two or
three nonconducted beats), giving twice
(or three or four times) as many P waves
as QRS complexes. This is called ‘2:1’
(‘two to one’), ‘3:1’ (‘three to one’)
or ‘4:1’ (‘four to one’) conduction
(Fig. 2.5).
It is important to remember that, as with any
other rhythm, a P wave may only show itself as
a distortion of a T wave (Fig. 2.6).

Problems in the AV node and His bundle

2

Fig. 2.3

Second degree heart block (Wenckebach (Mobitz type 1))
Note

∑ Progressive lengthening of the
260 ms 280 ms 320 ms P

260 ms 280 ms 320 ms

P

PR interval

∑ One nonconducted P wave
∑ Next conducted beat has a shorter
∑

PR interval than the preceding
conducted beat
As with any other rhythm, a P wave
may only show itself as a distortion
of a T wave

Fig. 2.4

Second degree heart block (Mobitz type 2)

Note

∑ PR interval of the conducted beats is
constant

∑ One P wave is not followed by a QRS
complex

The underlying causes of second degree heart
block are the same as those of first degree block.
The Wenckebach phenomenon is usually benign,

but Mobitz type 2 block and 2:1, 3:1 or 4:1
block may herald ‘complete,’ or ‘third degree’,
heart block.

39

Conduction and its problems
Fig. 2.5

Second degree heart block (2:1 type)
P

Note

∑ Two P waves per QRS complex
∑ Normal, and constant, PR interval in
the conducted beats

Fig. 2.6

Second degree heart block (2:1 type)
P

Note

∑ P wave in the T wave can be
identified because of its regularity

40

Problems in the AV node and His bundle
THIRD DEGREE HEART BLOCK
Complete heart block (third degree block) is said
to occur when atrial contraction is normal but no
beats are conducted to the ventricles (Fig. 2.7).
When this occurs the ventricles are excited by
a slow ‘escape mechanism’ (see Ch. 3), from a
depolarizing focus within the ventricular muscle.
Complete block is not always immediately
obvious in a 12-lead ECG, where there may be

2

only a few QRS complexes per lead (e.g. see
Fig. 2.8). You have to look at the PR interval in
all the leads to see that there is no consistency.
Complete heart block may occur as an acute
phenomenon in patients with myocardial
infarction (when it is usually transient) or it
may be chronic, usually due to fibrosis around
the bundle of His. It may also be caused by the
block of both bundle branches.

Fig. 2.7

Third degree heart block
P

Note

∑ P wave rate 90/min
∑ No relationship between P waves
and QRS complexes

∑ QRS complex rate 36/min
∑ Abnormally shaped QRS complexes,
because of abnormal spread of
depolarization from a ventricular
focus

41

Conduction and its problems
Fig. 2.8
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Complete heart block
Note
∑ Sinus rhythm, but no P waves are conducted
∑ Right axis deviation
∑ Broad QRS complexes (duration 160 ms)
∑ Right bundle branch block pattern

42

∑ In this case the cause of the block could not be
determined, though in most patients it results
from fibrosis of the bundle of His

Problems in the right and left bundle branches
CONDUCTION PROBLEMS IN THE
RIGHT AND LEFT BUNDLE BRANCHES –
BUNDLE BRANCH BLOCK
If the depolarization wave reaches the
interventricular septum normally, the interval
between the beginning of the P wave and the first
deflection in the QRS complex (the PR interval)
will be normal. However, if there is abnormal
conduction through either the right or left
bundle branches (‘bundle branch block’) there
will be a delay in the depolarization of part of
the ventricular muscle. The extra time taken for
depolarization of the whole of the ventricular
muscle causes widening of the QRS complex.
In the normal heart, the time taken for the
depolarization wave to spread from the
interventricular septum to the furthest part of
the ventricles is less than 120 ms, represented
by three small squares of ECG paper. If the
QRS complex duration is greater than 120 ms,
then conduction within the ventricles must
have occurred by an abnormal, and therefore
slower, pathway.
A wide QRS complex can therefore indicate
bundle branch block, but widening also occurs
if depolarization begins within the ventricular
muscle itself (see Ch. 3). However, remember

2

that in sinus rhythm with bundle branch block,
normal P waves are present with a constant PR
interval. We shall see that this is not the case
with rhythms beginning in the ventricles.
Block of both bundle branches has the same
effect as block of the His bundle, and causes
complete (third degree) heart block.
Right bundle branch block (RBBB) often
indicates problems in the right side of the heart,
but RBBB patterns with a QRS complex of normal
duration are quite common in healthy people.
Left bundle branch block (LBBB) is always
an indication of heart disease, usually of the left
ventricle.
It is important to recognize when bundle
branch block is present, because LBBB prevents
any further interpretation of the cardiogram,
and RBBB can make interpretation difficult.
The mechanism underlying the ECG patterns
of RBBB and LBBB can be worked out from
first principles. Remember (see Ch. 1):

∑
∑
∑

The septum is normally depolarized from
left to right.
The left ventricle, having the greater muscle
mass, exerts more influence on the ECG
than does the right ventricle.
Excitation spreading towards a lead causes
an upward deflection within the ECG.

43

Conduction and its problems
RIGHT BUNDLE BRANCH BLOCK
In RBBB, no conduction occurs down the right
bundle branch but the septum is depolarized
from the left side as usual, causing an R wave in
a right ventricular lead (V1) and a small Q wave
in a left ventricular lead (V6) (Fig. 2.9).
Excitation then spreads to the left ventricle,
causing an S wave in lead V1 and an R wave in
lead V6 (Fig. 2.10).
It takes longer than in a normal heart for
excitation to reach the right ventricle because

of the failure of the normal conducting pathway.
The right ventricle therefore depolarizes after
the left. This causes a second R wave (R1) in
lead V1, and a wide and deep S wave, and
consequently a wide QRS complex, in lead V6
(Fig. 2.11).
An ‘RSR1’ pattern, with a QRS complex of
normal width (less than 120 ms), is sometimes
called ‘partial right bundle branch block’. It is
seldom of significance, and can be considered
to be a normal variant.

Fig. 2.9

Fig. 2.10

Conduction in right bundle branch block:
first stage

Conduction in right bundle branch block:
second stage
R

Q

Q

V6

V6
R

R

S
V1

44

V1

Problems in the right and left bundle branches
LEFT BUNDLE BRANCH BLOCK
If conduction down the left bundle branch fails,
the septum becomes depolarized from right to
left, causing a small Q wave in lead V1, and an
R wave in lead V6 (Fig. 2.12).
The right ventricle is depolarized before the
left, so despite the smaller muscle mass there is
an R wave in lead V1 and an S wave (often
appearing only as a notch) in lead V6 (Fig. 2.13).
Remember that any upward deflection, however

2

small, is an R wave, and any downward
deflection, however small, following an R wave
is called an S wave.
Subsequent depolarization of the left ventricle
causes an S wave in lead V1 and another R
wave in lead V6 (Fig. 2.14).
LBBB is associated with T wave inversion in
the lateral leads (I, VL and V5–V6), though not
necessarily in all of these.

Fig. 2.11

Fig. 2.12

Conduction in right bundle branch block:
third stage

Conduction in left bundle branch block:
first stage

R

R

Q
S
V6

V6

R R1

S
V1

Q
V1

45

Conduction and its problems
Fig. 2.13

Fig. 2.14

Conduction in left bundle branch block:
second stage

Conduction in left bundle branch block:
third stage
R

R
S

V6

V6

R
Q
V1

S
V1

REMINDERS
BUNDLE BRANCH BLOCK

∑ RBBB is best seen in lead V1, where there is an RSR1 pattern (Fig. 2.15).
∑ LBBB is best seen in lead V6, where there is a broad QRS complex with a notched top, which
resembles the letter ‘M’ and is therefore known as an ‘M’ pattern (Fig. 2.16). The complete picture,
with a ‘W’ pattern in lead V1, is often not fully developed.

46

Problems in the right and left bundle branches

2

Fig. 2.15
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Sinus rhythm with right bundle branch block
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑
∑
∑

Sinus rhythm, rate 60/min
Normal PR interval
Normal cardiac axis
Wide QRS complexes (160 ms)
RSR1 pattern in lead V1 and deep, wide S waves in lead V6
Normal ST segments and T waves

47

Conduction and its problems
Fig. 2.16
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

Sinus rhythm with left bundle branch block
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑
∑
∑

48

Sinus rhythm, rate 100/min
Normal PR interval
Normal cardiac axis
Wide QRS complexes (160 ms)
M pattern in the QRS complexes, best seen in leads I, VL, V5 and V6
Inverted T waves in leads I, II, VL

V6

Problems in the distal parts of the left bundle branch
CONDUCTION PROBLEMS IN
THE DISTAL PARTS OF THE LEFT
BUNDLE BRANCH
At this point it is worth considering in a little
more detail the anatomy of the branches of the
His bundle. The right bundle branch has no
main divisions, but the left bundle branch has
two – the anterior and posterior ‘fascicles’. The
depolarization wave therefore spreads into the
ventricles by three pathways (Fig. 2.17).

2

The cardiac axis (see Ch. 1) depends on the
average direction of depolarization of the
ventricles. Because the left ventricle contains
more muscle than the right, it has more
influence on the cardiac axis (Fig. 2.18).
If the anterior fascicle of the left bundle
branch fails to conduct, the left ventricle has to
be depolarized through the posterior fascicle, and
so the cardiac axis rotates upwards (Fig. 2.19).
Left axis deviation is therefore due to left
anterior fascicular block, or ‘left anterior
hemiblock’ (Fig. 2.20).

Fig. 2.17

The three pathways of the depolarization wave
AV node

Bundle of His
Left bundle branch
Anterior fascicle

Right bundle
branch

Posterior fascicle

49

Conduction and its problems
Fig. 2.18

Effect of normal conduction on the cardiac axis

Normal axis

Fig. 2.19

Effect of left anterior fascicular block on the cardiac axis
Left axis deviation

50

Problems in the distal parts of the left bundle branch
Fig. 2.20

I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

2

Sinus rhythm with left axis deviation (otherwise normal)
Note

∑ Sinus rhythm, rate 80/min
∑ Left axis deviation: QRS complex upright in lead I, but downward (dominant S wave) in leads II and III
∑ Normal QRS complexes, ST segments and T waves

The posterior fascicle of the left bundle is
only rarely selectively blocked, in ‘left posterior
hemiblock’, but if this does occur the ECG
shows right axis deviation.
When the right bundle branch is blocked, the
cardiac axis usually remains normal, because
there is normal depolarization of the left
ventricle with its large muscle mass (Fig. 2.21).
However, if both the right bundle branch
and the left anterior fascicle are blocked, the

ECG shows RBBB and left axis deviation (Fig.
2.22). This is sometimes called ‘bifascicular
block’, and this ECG pattern obviously indicates
widespread damage to the conducting system
(Fig. 2.23).
If the right bundle branch and both fascicles
of the left bundle branch are blocked, complete
heart block occurs just as if the main His bundle
had failed to conduct.

51

Conduction and its problems
Fig. 2.21

Lack of effect of right bundle branch block on the cardiac axis

RBBB

Fig. 2.22

Effect of right bundle branch block and left anterior hemiblock on the cardiac axis
Left axis deviation

RBBB

52

Problems in the distal parts of the left bundle branch
Fig. 2.23

I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

2

Bifascicular block
Note

∑ Sinus rhythm, rate 90/min
∑ Left axis deviation (dominant S wave in leads II and III)
∑ Right bundle branch block (RSR1 pattern in lead V1, and deep, wide S wave in lead V6)

53

Conduction and its problems
WHAT TO DO
Always remember that it is the patient who should
be treated, not the ECG. Relief of symptoms
always comes first. However, some general points
can be made about the action that might be taken
if the ECG shows conduction abnormalities.

First degree block

∑
∑
∑

Often seen in normal people.
Think about acute myocardial infarction
and acute rheumatic fever as possible causes.
No specific action needed.

Second degree block

∑
∑
∑

Usually indicates heart disease; often seen
in acute myocardial infarction.
Mobitz type 2 and Wenckebach block do
not need specific treatment.
2:1, 3:1 or 4:1 block may indicate a need
for temporary or permanent pacing,
especially if the ventricular rate is slow.

Third degree block

∑
∑

54

Always indicates conducting tissue disease –
more often fibrosis than ischaemic.
Consider a temporary or permanent
pacemaker.

Right bundle branch block

∑
∑

Think about an atrial septal defect.
No specific treatment.

Left bundle branch block

∑
∑
∑

Think about aortic stenosis and ischaemic
disease.
If the patient is asymptomatic, no action is
needed.
If the patient has recently had severe chest
pain, LBBB may indicate an acute myocardial
infarction, and intervention should be
considered.

Left axis deviation

∑
∑

Think about left ventricular hypertrophy
and its causes.
No action needed.

Left axis deviation and right bundle
branch block

∑
∑
∑

Indicates severe conducting tissue disease.
No specific treatment needed.
Pacemaker required if the patient has
symptoms suggestive of intermittent
complete heart block.

Reminders

2

REMINDERS
CONDUCTION AND ITS EFFECTS ON THE ECG

∑ Depolarization normally begins in the SA

∑
∑

∑

node, and spreads to the ventricles via the
AV node, the His bundle, the right and left
branches of the His bundle, and the anterior
and posterior fascicles of the left bundle
branch.
A conduction abnormality can develop at
any of these points.
Conduction problems in the AV node and
His bundle may be partial (first and second
degree block) or complete (third degree
block).
If conduction is normal through the
AV node, the His bundle and one of its
branches, but is abnormal in the other
branch, bundle branch block exists and
the QRS complex is wide.

∑ The ECG pattern of RBBB and LBBB can be

∑

∑

worked out if you remember that:
– the septum is depolarized first from left
to right
– lead V1 looks at the right ventricle and
lead V6 at the left ventricle
– when depolarization spreads towards
an electrode the stylus moves upwards.
If you can’t remember all this, remember
that RBBB has an RSR1 pattern in lead
V1, while LBBB has a letter ‘M’ pattern in
lead V6.
Block of the anterior division or fascicle
of the left bundle branch causes left axis
deviation.

ECG
IP
For more on
conduction
problems, see
pp. 85–95

ECG
IP
For more on
treatment of
conduction
problems with
pacemakers, see
pp. 187–206

55

3

The rhythm of the heart

The intrinsic rhythmicity of the heart

57

Abnormal rhythms

58

The bradycardias – the slow rhythms

59

Extrasystoles

63

The tachycardias – the fast rhythms

66

Fibrillation

76

The Wolff–Parkinson–White (WPW)
syndrome

79

The origins of tachycardias

81

What to do

82

The identification of rhythm abnormalities

83

in other places. Then the rhythm is named after
the part of the heart where the depolarization
sequence originates, and an ‘arrhythmia’ is said
to be present.
When attempting to analyse a cardiac rhythm
remember:

∑
∑
∑

Atrial contraction is associated with the P
wave of the ECG.
Ventricular contraction is associated with
the QRS complex.
Atrial contraction normally precedes
ventricular contraction, and there is normally
one atrial contraction per ventricular
contraction (i.e. there should be as many
P waves as there are QRS complexes).
The keys to rhythm abnormalities are:

56

So far we have only considered the spread of
depolarization that follows the normal activation
of the sinoatrial (SA) node. When depolarization
begins in the SA node the heart is said to be in
sinus rhythm. Depolarization can, however, begin

∑
∑

The P waves – can you find them? Look for
the lead in which they are most obvious.
The relationship between the P waves and
the QRS complexes – there should be one
P wave per QRS complex.

The intrinsic rhythmicity of the heart
∑
∑

The width of the QRS complexes (should
be 120 ms or less).
Because an arrhythmia should be identified
from the lead in which the P waves can
be seen most easily, full 12-lead ECGs are
better than rhythm strips.

THE INTRINSIC RHYTHMICITY OF
THE HEART
Most parts of the heart can depolarize
spontaneously and rhythmically, and the rate of
contraction of the ventricles will be controlled
by the part of the heart that is depolarizing
most frequently.
The stars in the figures in this chapter indicate
the part of the heart where the activation

3

sequence began. The SA node normally has the
highest frequency of discharge. Therefore the
rate of contraction of the ventricles will equal
the rate of discharge of the SA node. The rate
of discharge of the SA node is influenced by the
vagus nerves, and also by reflexes originating in
the lungs. Changes in heart rate associated with
respiration are normally seen in young people,
and this is called ‘sinus arrhythmia’ (Fig. 3.1).
A slow sinus rhythm (‘sinus bradycardia’)
can be associated with athletic training, fainting
attacks, hypothermia or myxoedema, and is
also often seen immediately after a heart attack.
A fast sinus rhythm (‘sinus tachycardia’) can be
associated with exercise, fear, pain, haemorrhage
or thyrotoxicosis. There is no particular rate
that is called ‘bradycardia’ or ‘tachycardia’ –
these are merely descriptive terms.

Fig. 3.1

Sinus arrhythmia

Note

∑ One P wave per QRS complex
∑ Constant PR interval
∑ Progressive beat-to-beat change in
the R–R interval

57

The rhythm of the heart
ABNORMAL RHYTHMS
Abnormal cardiac rhythms can begin in one
of three places (Fig. 3.2): the atrial muscle;
the region around the atrioventricular (AV)
node (this is called ‘nodal’ or, more properly,
junctional’); or the ventricular muscle. Although

Figure 3.2 suggests that electrical activation
might begin at specific points within the atrial
and ventricular muscles, abnormal rhythms can
begin anywhere within the atria or ventricles.
Sinus rhythm, atrial rhythm and junctional
rhythm together constitute the ‘supraventricular’
rhythms (Fig. 3.3). In the supraventricular

Fig. 3.2

Points where cardiac rhythms can begin

SA node
Atrial muscle

AV node
Ventricular muscle

Fig. 3.3

Division of abnormal rhythms into supraventricular and ventricular
Supraventricular
Ventricular

58

The bradycardias – the slow rhythms
rhythms, the depolarization wave spreads to
the ventricles in the normal way via the His
bundle and its branches (Fig. 3.4). The QRS
complex is therefore normal, and is the same
whether depolarization was initiated by

Fig. 3.4

Spread of the depolarization wave in
supraventricular rhythms

the SA node, the atrial muscle, or the
junctional region.
In ventricular rhythms, on the other hand,
the depolarization wave spreads through the
ventricles by an abnormal and slower pathway,
via the Purkinje fibres (Fig. 3.5). The QRS
complex is therefore wide and is abnormally
shaped. Repolarization is also abnormal, so the
T wave is also of abnormal shape.
Remember:

∑
∑
∑

Fig. 3.5

Spread of the depolarization wave in
ventricular rhythm

3

Supraventricular rhythms have narrow
QRS complexes.
Ventricular rhythms have wide QRS
complexes.
The only exception to this rule occurs
when there is a supraventricular rhythm
with right or left bundle branch block,
or the Wolff–Parkinson–White (WPW)
syndrome, when the QRS complex will
be wide (see p. 79).

Abnormal rhythms arising in the atrial
muscle, the junctional region or the ventricular
muscle can be categorized as:

∑
∑
∑
∑

bradycardias – slow and sustained
extrasystoles – occur as early single beats
tachycardias – fast and sustained
fibrillation – activation of the atria or
ventricles is totally disorganized.

THE BRADYCARDIAS – THE SLOW
RHYTHMS
It is clearly advantageous if different parts of
the heart are able to initiate the depolarization

59

The rhythm of the heart

60

sequence, because this gives the heart a series
of failsafe mechanisms that will keep it going if
the SA node fails to depolarize, or if conduction
of the depolarization wave is blocked. However,
the protective mechanisms must normally be
inactive if competition between normal and
abnormal sites of spontaneous depolarization is
to be avoided. This is achieved by the secondary
sites having a lower intrinsic frequency of
depolarization than the SA node.
The heart is controlled by whichever site is
spontaneously depolarizing most frequently:
normally this is the SA node, and it gives a
normal heart rate of about 70/min. If the SA
node fails to depolarize, control will be assumed
by a focus either in the atrial muscle or in the
region around the AV node (the junctional
region), both of which have spontaneous
depolarization frequencies of about 50/min. If
these fail, or if conduction through the His
bundle is blocked, a ventricular focus will take
over and give a ventricular rate of about 30/min.
These slow and protective rhythms are
called ‘escape rhythms’, because they occur when
secondary sites for initiating depolarization
escape from their normal inhibition by the
more active SA node.
Escape rhythms are not primary disorders,
but are the response to problems higher in the
conducting pathway. They are commonly seen
in the acute phase of a heart attack, when they
may be associated with sinus bradycardia. It is
important not to try to suppress an escape
rhythm, because without it the heart might
stop altogether.

ATRIAL ESCAPE
If the rate of depolarization of the SA node
slows down and a different focus in the atrium
takes over control of the heart, the rhythm is
described as ‘atrial escape’ (Fig. 3.6). Atrial
escape beats can occur singly.

NODAL (JUNCTIONAL) ESCAPE
If the region around the AV node takes over as
the focus of depolarization, the rhythm is
called ‘nodal’, or more properly, ‘junctional’
escape (Fig. 3.7).

VENTRICULAR ESCAPE
‘Ventricular escape’ is most commonly seen
when conduction between the atria and
ventricles is interrupted by complete heart
block (Fig. 3.8).
Ventricular escape rhythms can occur
without complete heart block, and ventricular
escape beats can be single (Fig. 3.9).
The rhythm of the heart can occasionally be
controlled by a ventricular focus with an
intrinsic frequency of discharge faster than that
seen in complete heart block. This rhythm is
called ‘accelerated idioventricular rhythm’ (Fig.
3.10), and is often associated with acute
myocardial infarction. Although the appearance
of the ECG is similar to that of ventricular
tachycardia (described later), accelerated
idioventricular rhythm is benign and should
not be treated. Ventricular tachycardia should
not be diagnosed unless the heart rate exceeds
120/min.

The bradycardias – the slow rhythms

3

Fig. 3.6

Atrial escape
Note

∑ After one sinus beat the SA node fails
to depolarize

∑ After a delay, an abnormal P wave is

∑

∑

seen because excitation of the atrium
has begun somewhere other than the
SA node
The abnormal P wave is followed by a
normal QRS complex, because
excitation has spread normally down
the His bundle
The remaining beats show a return to
sinus arrhythmia

Fig. 3.7

Nodal (junctional) escape

Note

∑ Sinus rhythm, rate 100/min
∑ Junctional escape rhythm (following
the arrow), rate 75/min

∑ No P waves in junctional beats
∑

(indicates either no atrial contraction
or P wave lost in QRS complex)
Normal QRS complexes

61

The rhythm of the heart
Fig. 3.8

Complete heart block

Note

∑ Regular P waves (normal atrial
depolarization)
P

QRS

∑ P wave rate 145/min
∑ QRS complexes highly abnormal
∑
∑

because of abnormal conduction
through ventricular muscle
QRS complex (ventricular escape) rate
15/min
No relationship between P waves and
QRS complexes

Fig. 3.9

Ventricular escape

Note

∑ After three sinus beats, the SA node
fails to discharge

∑ No atrial or nodal escape occurs
∑ After a pause there is a single wide
∑
62

and abnormal QRS complex
(arrowed), with an abnormal T wave
A ventricular focus controls the heart
for one beat, and sinus rhythm is then
restored

Extrasystoles

3

Fig. 3.10

Accelerated idioventricular rhythm
Note

∑ After three sinus beats, the SA node
fails to depolarize

∑ An escape focus in the ventricle
takes over, causing a regular rhythm
of 75/min with wide QRS complexes
and abnormal T waves

EXTRASYSTOLES
Any part of the heart can depolarize earlier than
it should, and the accompanying heartbeat is
called an extrasystole. The term ‘ectopic’ is
sometimes used to indicate that depolarization
originated in an abnormal location, and the term
‘premature contraction’ means the same thing.

The ECG appearance of an extrasystole
arising in the atrial muscle, the junctional or
nodal region, or the ventricular muscle, is the
same as that of the corresponding escape beat –
the difference is that an extrasystole comes early
and an escape beat comes late.
Atrial extrasystoles have abnormal P waves
(Fig. 3.11). In a junctional extrasystole there is

Fig. 3.11

Atrial and junctional (nodal) extrasystoles
Note

∑ This record shows sinus rhythm with
junctional and atrial extrasystoles

∑ A junctional extrasystole has no P wave
∑ An atrial extrasystole has an
abnormally shaped P wave

∑ Sinus, junctional and atrial beats have
Sinus
Atrial
Junctional

identical QRS complexes – conduction
in and beyond the His bundle is normal

63

The rhythm of the heart
no P wave at all, or the P wave appears
immediately before or immediately after the
QRS complex (Fig. 3.11). The QRS complexes
of atrial and junctional extrasystoles are, of
course, the same as those of sinus rhythm.
Ventricular extrasystoles, however, have
abnormal QRS complexes, which are typically
wide and can be of almost any shape (Fig. 3.12).

Ventricular extrasystoles are common, and are
usually of no importance. However, when they
occur early in the T wave of a preceding beat
they can induce ventricular fibrillation (see p. 79),
and are thus potentially dangerous.
It may, however, not be as easy as this,
particularly if a beat of supraventricular origin
is conducted abnormally to the ventricles

Fig. 3.12

Ventricular extrasystole

Note

∑ The upper trace shows five sinus
R on T phenomenon:

∑

64

beats, then an early beat with a wide
QRS complex and an abnormal T
wave: this is a ventricular extrasystole
(arrowed)
In the lower trace, the ventricular
extrasystoles occur (arrowed) at the
peak of the T waves of the preceding
sinus beats: this is the ‘R on T’
phenomenon

Extrasystoles
(bundle branch block, see Ch. 2). It is advisable
to get into the habit of asking five questions
every time an ECG is being analysed:
1. Does an early QRS complex follow an early
P wave? If so, it must be an atrial extrasystole.
2. Can a P wave be seen anywhere? A junctional
extrasystole may cause the appearance of a
P wave very close to, and even after, the QRS
complex because excitation is conducted
both to the atria and to the ventricles.
3. Is the QRS complex the same shape
throughout (i.e. has it the same initial
direction of deflection as the normal
beat, and has it the same duration)?
Supraventricular beats look the same
as each other; ventricular beats may look
different from each other.

3

4. Is the T wave the same way up as in the
normal beat? In supraventricular beats, it
is the same way up; in ventricular beats,
it is inverted.
5. Does the next P wave after the extrasystole
appear at an expected time? In both
supraventricular and ventricular extrasystoles
there is a (‘compensatory’) pause before
the next heartbeat, but a supraventricular
extrasystole usually upsets the normal
periodicity of the SA node, so that the next
SA node discharge (and P wave) comes late.
The effects of both supraventricular and
ventricular extrasystoles on the following P wave
are as follows:

∑

A supraventricular extrasystole resets the
P wave cycle (Fig. 3.13).

Fig. 3.13

Supraventricular extrasystole
No P wave
P

Expected P wave

Note

∑ Three sinus beats are followed by a
junctional extrasystole

∑ No P wave is seen at the expected
time, and the next P wave is late

65

The rhythm of the heart
Fig. 3.14

Ventricular extrasystole
No P wave
P

Expected P wave

Note

∑ Three sinus beats are followed by a
ventricular extrasystole

∑ No P wave is seen after this beat, but
the next P wave arrives on time

∑

A ventricular extrasystole, on the other
hand, does not affect the SA node, so the
next P wave appears at the predicted time
(Fig. 3.14).

THE TACHYCARDIAS – THE FAST
RHYTHMS
Foci in the atria, the junctional (AV nodal) region,
and the ventricles may depolarize repeatedly,
causing a sustained tachycardia. The criteria
already described can be used to decide the
origin of the arrhythmia, and as before the most
important thing is to try to identify a P wave.
When a tachycardia occurs intermittently, it is

66

called ‘paroxysmal’: this is a clinical description,
and is not related to any specific ECG pattern.

SUPRAVENTRICULAR TACHYCARDIAS
Atrial tachycardia (abnormal focus in the
atrium)
In atrial tachycardia, the atria depolarize faster
than 150/min (Fig. 3.15).
The AV node cannot conduct atrial rates
of discharge greater than about 200/min. If the
atrial rate is faster than this, ‘atrioventricular
block’ occurs, with some P waves not followed
by QRS complexes. The difference between this
sort of atrioventricular block and second degree
heart block is that in atrioventricular block

The tachycardias – the fast rhythms

3

Fig. 3.15

Atrial tachycardia

Note

∑ After three sinus beats, atrial
∑
∑

associated with tachycardia the AV node is
functioning properly – it is preventing the
ventricles from being activated at a fast (and
therefore inefficient) rate. In first, second or
third degree block associated with sinus rhythm,
the AV node and/or the His bundle are not
conducting normally.

Atrial flutter
When the atrial rate is greater than 250/min,
and there is no flat baseline between the P
waves, ‘atrial flutter’ is present (Fig. 3.16).

tachycardia develops at a rate of
150/min
P waves can be seen superimposed
on the T waves of the preceding
beats
The QRS complexes have the same
shape as those of the sinus beats

When atrial tachycardia or atrial flutter is
associated with 2:1 block, you need to look
carefully to recognize the extra P waves (Fig.
3.17). A narrow complex tachycardia with a
ventricular rate of about 125–150/min should
always alert you to the possibility of atrial
flutter with 2:1 block.
Any arrhythmia should be identified from
the lead in which P waves can most easily be
seen. In the record in Figure 3.18, atrial flutter
is most easily seen in lead II, but it is also
obvious in leads VR and VF.

67

The rhythm of the heart
Fig. 3.16

Atrial flutter

Note

P

∑ P waves can be seen at a rate
∑
∑

of 300/min, giving a ‘sawtooth’
appearance
There are four P waves per QRS
complex (arrowed)
Ventricular activation is perfectly
regular at 75/min

Fig. 3.17

Atrial flutter with 2:1 block
Note

∑ Atrial flutter with an atrial rate of
P

∑

∑
68

250/min is present, and there is 2:1
block, giving a ventricular rate of
125/min
The first of the two P waves associated
with each QRS complex can be
mistaken for the T wave of the
preceding beat, but P waves can
be identified by their regularity
In this trace, T waves cannot be
clearly identified

The tachycardias – the fast rhythms

3

Fig. 3.18
I

VR

V1

II

VL

V2

III

VF

V3

V4

V5

V6

Atrial flutter with 2:1 block
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

P waves at just over 300/min (most easily seen in leads II and VR)
Regular QRS complexes, rate 160/min
Narrow QRS complexes of normal shape
Normal T waves (best seen in the V leads; in the limb leads it is difficult to distinguish between T and
P waves)

69

The rhythm of the heart
Junctional (nodal) tachycardia
If the area around the AV node depolarizes
frequently, the P waves may be seen very close
to the QRS complexes, or may not be seen at
all (Fig. 3.19). The QRS complex is of normal
shape because, as with the other supraventricular

arrhythmias, the ventricles are activated via the
His bundle in the normal way.
The 12-lead ECG in Figure 3.20 shows that
in junctional tachycardia no P waves can be
seen in any lead.

Fig. 3.19

Junctional (nodal) tachycardia

Junctional tachycardia:

Note

Sinus rhythm:

∑ In the upper trace there are no P
∑

70

waves, and the QRS complexes are
completely regular
The lower trace is from the same
patient, in sinus rhythm. The QRS
complexes have essentially the same
shape as those of the junctional
tachycardia

The tachycardias – the fast rhythms

3

Fig. 3.20
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Junctional tachycardia
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

No P waves
Regular QRS complexes, rate 200/min
Narrow QRS complexes of normal shape
Normal T waves

71

The rhythm of the heart
Carotid sinus pressure
Carotid sinus pressure may have a useful
therapeutic effect on supraventricular tachycardias,
and is always worth trying because it may make
the nature of the arrhythmia more obvious
(Fig. 3.21). Carotid sinus pressure activates a
reflex that leads to vagal stimulation of the SA
and AV nodes. This causes a reduction in the

frequency of discharge of the SA node, and an
increase in the delay of conduction in the AV
node. It is the latter which is important in the
diagnosis and treatment of arrhythmias. Carotid
sinus pressure completely abolishes some
supraventricular arrhythmias, and slows the
ventricular rate in others, but it has no effect
on ventricular arrhythmias.

Fig. 3.21

Atrial flutter with carotid sinus pressure (CSP)
CSP
Note

∑ In this case, carotid sinus pressure
(applied during the period indicated
by the arrows) has increased the block
between the atria and the ventricles,
and has made it obvious that the
underlying rhythm is atrial flutter

72

The tachycardias – the fast rhythms
VENTRICULAR TACHYCARDIAS
If a focus in the ventricular muscle depolarizes
with a high frequency (causing, in effect, rapidly
repeated ventricular extrasystoles), the rhythm
is called ‘ventricular tachycardia’ (Fig. 3.22).
Excitation has to spread by an abnormal
path through the ventricular muscle, and the
QRS complex is therefore wide and abnormal.

3

Wide and abnormal complexes are seen in all
12 leads of the standard ECG (Fig. 3.23).
Remember that wide and abnormal
complexes are also seen with bundle branch
block (Fig. 3.24).

Fig. 3.22

Ventricular tachycardia

Note

∑ After two sinus beats, the rate
increases to 200/min

ECG
IP

∑ The QRS complexes become broad,
∑

and the T waves are difficult to
identify
The final beat shows a return to sinus
rhythm

For more on
broad complex
tachycardias,
see p. 126

73

The rhythm of the heart
Fig. 3.23
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Ventricular tachycardia
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

74

No P waves
Regular QRS complexes, rate 200/min
Broad QRS complexes, duration 280 ms, with a very abnormal shape
No identifiable T waves

The tachycardias – the fast rhythms

3

Fig. 3.24

Sinus rhythm with left bundle branch block

Note

∑ Sinus rhythm: each QRS complex is
∑
∑

HOW TO DISTINGUISH BETWEEN
VENTRICULAR TACHYCARDIA AND
SUPRAVENTRICULAR TACHYCARDIA
WITH BUNDLE BRANCH BLOCK
It is essential to remember that the patient’s
clinical state – whether good or bad – does not
help to differentiate between the two possible
causes of a tachycardia with broad QRS
complexes. If a patient with an acute myocardial
infarction has broad complex tachycardia it
will almost always be ventricular tachycardia.
However, a patient with episodes of broad
complex tachycardia but without an infarction

preceded by a P wave, with a constant
PR interval
The QRS complexes are wide and the
T waves are inverted
This trace was recorded from lead
V6, and the M pattern and inverted
T wave characteristic of left bundle
branch block are easily identifiable

could have ventricular tachycardia, or
supraventricular tachycardia with bundle branch
block or the Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome
(see p. 79). Under such circumstances the
following points may be helpful:
1. Finding P waves and seeing how they relate
to the QRS complexes is always the key
to identifying arrhythmias. Always look
carefully at a full 12-lead ECG.
2. If possible, compare the QRS complex
during the tachycardia with that during
sinus rhythm. If the patient has bundle
branch block when in sinus rhythm, the

75

The rhythm of the heart
QRS complex during the tachycardia will
have the same shape as during normal
rhythm.
3. If the QRS complex is wider than four
small squares (160 ms), the rhythm will
probably be ventricular in origin.
4. Left axis deviation during the tachycardia
usually indicates a ventricular origin, as
does any change of axis compared with a
record taken during sinus rhythm.
5. If during the tachycardia the QRS complex
is very irregular, the rhythm is probably
atrial fibrillation with bundle branch block
(see below).

FIBRILLATION
All the arrhythmias discussed so far have
involved the synchronous contraction of all the
muscle fibres of the atria or of the ventricles,
albeit at abnormal speeds. When individual
muscle fibres contract independently, they are

76

said to be ‘fibrillating’. Fibrillation can occur in
the atrial or ventricular muscle.

ATRIAL FIBRILLATION
When the atrial muscle fibres contract
independently there are no P waves on the
ECG, only an irregular line (Fig. 3.25). At times
there may be flutter-like waves for 2–3 s. The
AV node is continuously bombarded with
depolarization waves of varying strength, and
depolarization spreads at irregular intervals
down the His bundle. The AV node conducts
in an ‘all or none’ fashion, so that the
depolarization waves passing into the His
bundle are of constant intensity. However, these
waves are irregular, and the ventricles therefore
contract irregularly. Because conduction into and
through the ventricles is by the normal route,
each QRS complex is of normal shape.
In a 12-lead record, fibrillation waves can
often be seen much better in some leads than in
others (Fig. 3.26).

Fibrillation

3

Fig. 3.25

Atrial fibrillation

Lead II:

Lead V1:

Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

No P waves, and an irregular baseline
Irregular QRS complexes
Normally shaped QRS complexes
In lead V1, waves can be seen with
some resemblance to those seen
in atrial flutter – this is common in
atrial fibrillation

77

The rhythm of the heart
Fig. 3.26
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Atrial fibrillation
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑
∑
∑

78

No P waves
Irregular baseline
Irregular QRS complexes, rate varying between 75/min and 190/min
Narrow QRS complexes of normal shape
Depressed ST segments in leads V5–V6 (digoxin effect – see p. 101)
Normal T waves

The Wolff–Parkinson–White (WPW) syndrome

3

Fig. 3.27

Ventricular fibrillation

VENTRICULAR FIBRILLATION
When the ventricular muscle fibres contract
independently, no QRS complex can be
identified, and the ECG is totally disorganized
(Fig. 3.27).
As the patient will usually have lost
consciousness by the time you have realized
that the change in the ECG pattern is not just
due to a loose connection, the diagnosis is easy.

THE WOLFF–PARKINSON–WHITE
(WPW) SYNDROME
The only normal electrical connection between
the atria and ventricles is the His bundle. Some

people, however, have an extra or ‘accessory’
conducting bundle, a condition known as the
Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome. The accessory
bundles form a direct connection between the
atrium and the ventricle, usually on the left side
of the heart, and in these bundles there is no
AV node to delay conduction. A depolarization
wave therefore reaches the ventricle early, and
‘pre-excitation’ occurs. The PR interval is short,
and the QRS complex shows an early slurred
upstroke called a ‘delta wave’ (Fig. 3.28). The
second part of the QRS complex is normal, as
conduction through the His bundle catches up
with the pre-excitation. The effects of the
WPW syndrome on the ECG are considered in
more detail in Chapter 7.

79

The rhythm of the heart
Fig. 3.28

I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

The Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑
∑

80

Sinus rhythm, rate 125/min
Right axis deviation
Short PR interval
Slurred upstroke of the QRS complex, best seen in leads V3 and V4. Wide QRS
complex due to this ‘delta’ wave
Dominant R wave in lead V1

The origins of tachycardias

3

Fig. 3.29

Sustained tachycardia in the Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome

Note

∑ During re-entry tachycardia, no
P waves can be seen

The only clinical importance of this
anatomical abnormality is that it can cause
paroxysmal tachycardia. Depolarization can
spread down the His bundle and back up the
accessory pathway, and so reactivate the atrium.
A ‘re-entry’ circuit is thus set up, and a
sustained tachycardia occurs (Fig. 3.29).

THE ORIGINS OF TACHYCARDIAS
We have considered the tachycardias up to now
as if all were due to an increased spontaneous

frequency of depolarization of some part of the
heart. While such an ‘enhanced automaticity’
certainly accounts for some tachycardias, others
are due to re-entry circuits within the heart
muscle. The tachycardias that we have
described as ‘junctional’ are usually due to
re-entry circuits around the AV node, and are
therefore properly called ‘atrioventricular
nodal re-entry tachycardias’ (AVNRTs). It is not
possible to distinguish enhanced automaticity
from re-entry tachycardia on standard ECGs,
but fortunately this differentiation has no
practical importance.

ECG
IP
For more
on WPW
syndrome,
see pp. 69–72

81

The rhythm of the heart
WHAT TO DO
Accurate interpretation of the ECG is an essential
part of arrhythmia management. Although this
book is not intended to discuss therapy in detail,
it seems appropriate to outline some simple
approaches to patient management that logically
follow interpretation of an ECG recording:

ECG
IP
For more on
pacemakers, see
pp. 187–207

1. For fast or slow sinus rhythm, treat the
underlying cause, not the rhythm itself.
2. Extrasystoles rarely need treatment.
3. In patients with acute heart failure or low
blood pressure due to tachycardia, DC
cardioversion should be considered early on.
4. Patients with any bradycardia that is
affecting the circulation can be treated
with atropine, but if this is ineffective they
will need temporary or permanent pacing
(Fig. 3.30).

5. The first treatment for any abnormal
tachycardia is carotid sinus pressure.
This should be performed with the ECG
running, and may help make the diagnosis:
– Sinus tachycardia: carotid sinus pressure
causes temporary slowing of the heart
rate.
– Atrial and junctional tachycardia:
carotid sinus pressure may terminate
the arrhythmia or may have no effect.
– Atrial flutter: carotid sinus pressure
usually causes a temporary increase
in block (e.g. from 2:1 to 3:1).
– Atrial fibrillation and ventricular
tachycardia: carotid sinus pressure
has no effect.
6. Narrow complex tachycardias should
be treated initially with adenosine.
7. Wide complex tachycardias should
be treated initially with lidocaine.

Fig. 3.30

Pacemaker
Note

∑ Occasional P waves are visible, but
are not related to the QRS complexes

∑ The QRS complexes are preceded
∑

82

by a brief spike, representing the
pacemaker stimulus
The QRS complexes are broad, because
pacemakers stimulate the right
ventricle and cause ‘ventricular’ beats

The identification of rhythm abnormalities

3

REMINDERS
ABNORMAL CARDIAC RHYTHMS

∑ Most parts of the heart are capable of
∑

∑
∑
∑
∑

spontaneous depolarization.
Abnormal rhythms can arise in the atrial
muscle, the region around the AV node
(the junctional region) and in the
ventricular muscle.
Escape rhythms are slow and are
protective.
Occasional early depolarization of any part
of the heart causes an extrasystole.
Frequent depolarization of any part of the
heart causes tachycardia.
Asynchronous contraction of muscle fibres
in the atria or ventricles is called fibrillation.

THE IDENTIFICATION OF RHYTHM
ABNORMALITIES
Recognizing ECG abnormalities is to a large
extent like recognizing an elephant – once seen,
never forgotten. However, in cases of difficulty
it is helpful to ask the following questions,
referring to Table 3.1:

∑ Apart from the rate, the ECG patterns of

∑

∑

an escape rhythm, an extrasystole and a
tachycardia arising in any one part of the
heart are the same.
All supraventricular rhythms have normal
QRS complexes, provided there is no
bundle branch block or pre-excitation
(WPW) syndrome.
Ventricular rhythms cause wide and
abnormal QRS complexes, and abnormal
T waves.

1. Is the abnormality occasional or sustained?
2. Are there any P waves?
3. Are there as many QRS complexes as
P waves?
4. Are the ventricles contracting regularly
or irregularly?
5. Is the QRS complex of normal shape?
6. What is the ventricular rate?

ECG
IP
For more on
tachycardias,
see pp. 113–147

83

The rhythm of the heart
Table 3.1 Recognizing ECG abnormalities
Abnormality

P wave P:QRS ratio

QRS regularity

Occasional
(i.e. extrasystoles)
Sustained

Present P:QRS = 1:1

Regular

QRS shape QRS rate

Rhythm

Normal

Supraventricular

Abnormal

Ventricular

Normal

Normal

Sinus rhythm

≥150/min Atrial tachycardia
Slightly irregular Normal

More P waves
than QRS
complexes

Absent

Regular

Regular

Normal

Sinus arrhythmia

Slow

Atrial escape

Fast

Atrial tachycardia
with block

Slow

Second degree
heart block

Abnormal

Slow

Complete heart
block

Normal

Fast

Junctional
tachycardia

Slow

Junctional
escape

Abnormal

Fast

Junctional
tachycardia
with bundle
branch block
or ventricular
tachycardia

Normal

Any speed Atrial fibrillation

Abnormal

Any speed Atrial fibrillation
and bundle
branch block

Normal

n/a

Irregular

QRS complexes
absent

84

Ventricular
fibrillation or
standstill

Abnormalities of P waves,
QRS complexes and T waves
Abnormalities of the P wave

86

Abnormalities of the QRS complex

87

Abnormalities of the ST segment

96

Abnormalities of the T wave

98

Other abnormalities of the ST segment
and the T wave

101

When interpreting an ECG, identify the rhythm
first. Then ask the following questions – always
in the same sequence:
1. Are there any abnormalities of the P wave?
2. What is the direction of the cardiac axis?
(Look at the QRS complex in leads I, II
and III – and at Ch. 1 if necessary.)

4

3. Is the QRS complex of normal duration?
4. Are there any abnormalities in the QRS
complex – particularly, are there any
abnormal Q waves?
5. Is the ST segment raised or depressed?
6. Is the T wave normal?
Remember:
1. The P wave can only be normal, unusually
tall or unusually broad.
2. The QRS complex can only have three
abnormalities – it can be too broad or
too tall, and it may contain an abnormal
Q wave.
3. The ST segment can only be normal,
elevated or depressed.
4. The T wave can only be the right way up
or the wrong way up.

85

Abnormalities of P waves, QRS complexes and T waves
ABNORMALITIES OF THE P WAVE
Apart from alterations of the shape of the P wave
associated with rhythm changes, there are only
two important abnormalities:
1. Anything that causes the right atrium to
become hypertrophied (such as tricuspid

Fig. 4.1

Right atrial hypertrophy

Fig. 4.2

Left atrial hypertrophy

86

valve stenosis or pulmonary hypertension)
causes the P wave to become peaked
(Fig. 4.1).
2. Left atrial hypertrophy (usually due to mitral
stenosis) causes a broad and bifid P wave
(Fig. 4.2).

Abnormalities of the QRS complex
ABNORMALITIES OF THE QRS COMPLEX
The normal QRS
characteristics:

complex

has

four

1. Its duration is no greater than 120 ms (three
small squares).
2. In a right ventricular lead (V1), the S wave
is greater than the R wave.
3. In a left ventricular lead (V5 or V6), the
height of the R wave is less than 25 mm.
4. Left ventricular leads may show Q waves due
to septal depolarization, but these are less
than 1 mm across and less than 2 mm deep.

4

Right ventricular hypertrophy
Right ventricular hypertrophy is best seen in
the right ventricular leads (especially V1). Since
the left ventricle does not have its usual
dominant effect on the QRS shape, the complex
in lead V1 becomes upright (i.e. the height of
the R wave exceeds the depth of the S wave) –
this is nearly always abnormal (Fig. 4.3). There
will also be a deep S wave in lead V6.

Fig. 4.3

ABNORMALITIES OF THE WIDTH OF THE
QRS COMPLEX
QRS complexes are abnormally wide in the
presence of bundle branch block (see Ch. 2), or
when depolarization is initiated by a focus in
the ventricular muscle causing ventricular
escape beats, extrasystoles or tachycardia (see
Ch. 3). In each case, the increased width
indicates that depolarization has spread
through the ventricles by an abnormal and
therefore slow pathway. The QRS complex is
also wide in the Wolff–Parkinson–White
syndrome (see p. 79, Ch. 3).

The QRS complex in right ventricular
hypertrophy

S
V6

R

INCREASED HEIGHT OF THE QRS COMPLEX
An increase of muscle mass in either ventricle
will lead to increased electrical activity, and to
an increase in the height of the QRS complex.

V1

87

Abnormalities of P waves, QRS complexes and T waves
Right ventricular hypertrophy is usually
accompanied by right axis deviation (see Ch.
1), by a peaked P wave (right atrial hypertrophy),

and in severe cases by inversion of the T waves
in leads V1 and V2, and sometimes in lead V3
or even V4 (Fig. 4.4).

Fig. 4.4
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Severe right ventricular hypertrophy
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑
∑
∑
88

Sinus rhythm, rate 63/min
Right axis deviation (deep S waves in lead I)
Dominant R waves in lead V1
Deep S waves in lead V (clockwise rotation)
Inverted T waves in leads II, III, VF and V1–V3
Flat T waves in leads V4–V5

Abnormalities of the QRS complex
Pulmonary embolism
In pulmonary embolism the ECG may show
features of right ventricular hypertrophy (Fig.
4.5), although in many cases there is nothing
abnormal other than sinus tachycardia. When a
pulmonary embolus is suspected, look for any
of the following:

4

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Peaked P waves.
Right axis deviation (S waves in lead I).
Tall R waves in lead V1.
Right bundle branch block.
Inverted T waves in lead V1 (normal),
spreading across to lead V2 or V3.
6. A shift of transition point to the left,
so that the R wave equals the S wave

Fig. 4.5
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Pulmonary embolism
Note

∑ Sinus rhythm, rate 75/min
∑ Right axis deviation
∑ Peaked P waves, especially in lead II

∑ Persistent S wave in lead V6
∑ T wave inversion in leads V1–V4

89

Abnormalities of P waves, QRS complexes and T waves
in lead V5 or V6 rather than in lead V3 or
V4 (clockwise rotation). A deep S wave will
persist in lead V6.
7. Curiously, a ‘Q’ wave in lead III resembling
an inferior infarction (see below).
However, do not hesitate to treat the patient if
the clinical picture suggests pulmonary embolism
but the ECG does not show the classical pattern

of right ventricular hypertrophy. If in doubt,
treat the patient with an anticoagulant.

Left ventricular hypertrophy
Left ventricular hypertrophy causes a tall R
wave (greater than 25 mm) in lead V5 or V6
and a deep S wave in lead V1 or V2 (Fig. 4.6) –
but in practice such ‘voltage’ changes alone are

Fig. 4.6
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

Left ventricular hypertrophy
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

90

Sinus rhythm, rate 83/min
Normal axis
Tall R waves in leads V5–V6 (R wave in lead V5, 40 mm) and deep S waves in leads V1–V2
Inverted T waves in leads I, VL and V5–V6

V6

Abnormalities of the QRS complex
unhelpful in diagnosing left ventricular
enlargement. With significant hypertrophy,
there are also inverted T waves in leads I, VL,
V5 and V6, and sometimes V4, and there may be
left axis deviation. It is difficult to diagnose
minor degrees of left ventricular hypertrophy
from the ECG.

4

Fig. 4.7

The origin of Q waves

Q

THE ORIGIN OF Q WAVES
Small (septal) ‘Q’ waves in the left ventricular
leads result from depolarization of the septum
from left to right (see Ch. 1). However, Q
waves greater than one small square in width
(representing 40 ms) and greater than 2 mm in
depth have a quite different significance.
The ventricles are depolarized from inside
outwards (Fig. 4.7). Therefore, an electrode
placed in the cavity of a ventricle would record
only a Q wave, because all the depolarization
waves would be moving away from it. If a
myocardial infarction causes complete death of
muscle from the inside surface to the outside
surface of the heart, an electrical ‘window’ is
created, and an electrode looking at the heart
over that window will record a cavity potential –
that is, a Q wave.
Q waves greater than one small square in
width and at least 2 mm deep therefore indicate
a myocardial infarction, and the leads in which
the Q wave appears give some indication of the
part of the heart that has been damaged. Thus,
infarction of the anterior wall of the left
ventricle causes a Q wave in the leads looking

V6

at the heart from the front – V2–V4 or V5 (Fig.
4.8) (see Ch. 1).
If the infarction involves both the anterior
and lateral surfaces of the heart, a Q wave will
be present in leads V3 and V4 and in the leads
that look at the lateral surface – I, VL and
V5–V6 (Fig. 4.9).
Infarctions of the inferior surface of the heart
cause Q waves in the leads looking at the heart
from below – III and VF (Figs 4.8 and 4.10).
When the posterior wall of the left ventricle is
infarcted, a different pattern is seen (Fig. 4.11).
The right ventricle occupies the front of the
heart anatomically, and normally depolarization
of the right ventricle (moving towards the
recording electrode V1) is overshadowed by
depolarization of the left ventricle (moving away
from V1). The result is a dominant S wave in lead
V1. With infarction of the posterior wall of the

91

Abnormalities of P waves, QRS complexes and T waves
Fig. 4.8
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Acute anterior myocardial infarction, and probable old inferior infarction
Note

∑ Sinus rhythm, rate 80/min
∑ Normal axis
∑ Small Q waves in leads II, III and VF – associated with flat ST segments and inverted T waves – indicate old
inferior infarction

∑ Small Q waves in leads V3–V4 – associated with raised ST segments – indicate acute anterior infarction

ECG
IP
For more on
myocardial
infarction, see
pp. 214–241

92

left ventricle, depolarization of the right ventricle
is less opposed by left ventricular forces, and so
becomes more obvious, and a dominant R wave
develops in lead V1. The appearance of the ECG
is similar to that of right ventricular hypertrophy,

though the other changes of right ventricular
hypertrophy (see above) do not appear.
The presence of a Q wave does not give any
indication of the age of an infarction, because once
a Q wave has developed it is usually permanent.

Abnormalities of the QRS complex

4

Fig. 4.9
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Acute anterolateral myocardial infarction and left anterior hemiblock
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

Sinus rhythm, rate 110/min
Left axis deviation (dominant S waves in leads II and III)
Q waves in leads VL and V2–V3
Raised ST segments in leads I, VL and V2–V5

93

Abnormalities of P waves, QRS complexes and T waves
Fig. 4.10
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Acute inferior infarction; lateral ischaemia
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑
∑
∑

94

Sinus rhythm, rate 70/min
Normal axis
Q waves in leads III and VF
Normal QRS complexes
Raised ST segments in leads II, III and VF
Inverted T waves in lead VL (abnormal) and in lead V1 (normal)

Abnormalities of the QRS complex

4

Fig. 4.11
I

VR

V1

V4

II

VL

V2

V5

III

VF

V3

V6

Posterior myocardial infarction
Note

∑
∑
∑
∑

Sinus rhythm, rate 70/min
Normal axis
Dominant R waves in lead V1
Flattened T waves in leads I and VL

95

Abnormalities of P waves, QRS complexes and T waves
ABNORMALITIES OF THE ST SEGMENT
The ST segment lies between the QRS complex
and the T wave (Fig. 4.12). It should be
‘isoelectric’ – that is, at the same level as the part
between the T wave and the next P wave – but

it may be elevated (Fig. 4.13a) or depressed
(Fig. 4.13b).
Elevation of the ST segment is an indication
of acute myocardial injury, usually due either to
a recent infarction or to pericarditis. The leads
in which the elevation occurs indicate the part

Fig. 4.12

The ST segment

ST segment

Fig. 4.13

(a) Elevated ST segment. (b) Depressed ST segment

(a)

96

(b)

Abnormalities of the ST segment
of the heart that is damaged – anterior damage
shows in the V leads, and inferior damage in
leads III and VF (see Figs 4.8 and 4.10).
Pericarditis is not usually a localized affair, and
so it causes ST elevation in most leads.
Horizontal depression of the ST segment,
associated with an upright T wave, is usually a

4

sign of ischaemia as opposed to infarction. When
the ECG at rest is normal, ST segment depression
may appear during exercise, particularly when
effort induces angina (Fig. 4.14).
Downward-sloping – as opposed to horizontally
depressed – ST segments are usually due to
treatment with digoxin (see p. 101).

Fig. 4.14

Exercise-induced ischaemic changes
Rest:

Exercise:
Note

∑ In the upper (normal) trace, the heart
∑

rate is 55/min and the ST segments
are isoelectric
In the lower trace, the heart rate is
125/min and the ST segments are
horizontally depressed

97

Abnormalities of P waves, QRS complexes and T waves
ABNORMALITIES OF THE T WAVE
INVERSION OF THE T WAVE
The T wave is normally inverted in leads VR
and V1, sometimes in leads III and V2, and also
in lead V3 in some black people.
T wave inversion is seen in the following
circumstances:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

Normality
Ischaemia
Ventricular hypertrophy
Bundle branch block
Digoxin treatment.

Leads adjacent to those showing inverted
T waves sometimes show ‘biphasic’ T waves –
initially upright and then inverted.

If an infarction is not full thickness and so
does not cause an electrical window, there will
be T wave inversion but no Q waves (Fig. 4.16).
Infarctions with this pattern of ECG change are
called ‘non-ST segment elevation myocardial
infarctions’ (NSTEMIs). The older term for the
same pattern was ‘non-Q wave infarction’ or
‘subendocardial infarction’.

VENTRICULAR HYPERTROPHY
Left ve