Abnormalities in beat-to-beat dynamics of heart rate before spontaneous onset of life-threatening ventricular tachyarrhythmias in patients with prior myocardial infarction

Author(s): Huikuri HV, Seppanen T, Koistinen M, Airaksinen J, Ikäheimo MJ, et al.


Background:Beat-to-beat analysis of RR intervals can reveal patterns of heart-rate dynamics, which are not easily detected by summary measures of heart-rate variability. This study was designed to test the hypothesis that alterations in RR-interval dynamics occur before the spontaneous onset of ventricular tachyarrhythmias (VT).

Methods and results:Ambulatory ECG recordings from 15 patients with prior myocardial infarction (MI) who had spontaneous episodes of sustained VT during the recording and VT inducible by programmed electrical stimulation (VT group) were analyzed by plotting each RR interval of a sinus beat as a function of the previous one (Poincaré plot). Poincaré plots were also generated for 30 post-MI patients who had no history of spontaneous VT events and no inducible VT (MI control subjects) and for 30 age-matched subjects without heart disease (normal control subjects). The MI control subjects and VT group were matched with respect to age and severity of underlying heart disease. All the healthy subjects and MI control subjects showed fan-shaped Poincaré plots characterized by an increased next-interval difference for long RR intervals relative to short ones. All the VT patients had abnormal plots: 9 with a complex pattern, 3 ball-shaped, and 3 torpedo-shaped. Quantitative analysis of the Poincare plots showed the SD of the long-term RR-interval variability (SD2) to be smaller in all VT patients (52+/-14 ms; range, 31 to 75 ms) than in MI control subjects (110+/-24 ms; range, 78 to 179 ms, P<.001) or the normal control subjects (123+/-38 ms, P<.001), but the SD of the instantaneous beat-to-beat variability (SD1) did not differ between the groups. The complex plots were caused by periods of alternating sinus intervals, resulting in an increased SD1/SD2 ratio in the VT group. This ratio increased during the 1-hour preceding the onset of 27 spontaneous VT episodes (0.43+/-0.20) compared with the 24-hour average ratio (0.33+/-0.19) (P<.01).

Conclusions:Reduced long-term RR-interval variability, associated with episodes of beta-to-beat sinus alternans, is a highly specific sign of a propensity for spontaneous onset of VT, suggesting that abnormal beat-to-beat heart-rate dynamics may reflect a transient electrical instability favoring the onset of VT in patients conditioned by structurally abnormal hearts.

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