Esophageal Electrocardiography

Esophageal electrocardiography in acute cardiac care. Efficacy and diagnostic value of a new technique.

Shaw M, Niemann JT, Haskell RJ, Rothstein RJ, Laks MM. Am J Med 1987 Apr;82(4):689-96. Esophageal electrocardiography can detect atrial electrical activity during tachyarrhythmias when P waves are not evident by surface electrocardiography. However, patient discomfort, the difficulty of accurately interpreting cardiac signals against a background of electrical noise, and the complexity of use have limited widespread application. In this study, esophageal electrocardiography was used in 48 acutely ill patients with a new "pill electrode" system, consisting of a bipolar electrode pair (3 by 20 mm) attached to 0.5 mm diameter Teflon wires contained in a standard gelatin capsule. The capsule with enclosed electrodes was voluntarily swallowed, and the recording electrodes were positioned posterior to the left atrium. A preamplifier system with a low-frequency filter and a standard three-channel electrocardiographic recorder were used. Esophageal "pill" electrocardiographic recordings were made in 48 of 50 eligible study patients (96%) with tachyarrhythmias and absent or equivocal atrial activity on surface electrocardiography. In these patients, a high-quality esophageal electrocardiographic recording was obtained within one to 10 minutes with minimal patient discomfort. In 25 of 48 study patients (52%), the original diagnosis, based on the surface electrocardiographic recording, was incorrect after review of the esophageal recording. Results of esophageal recording altered management in 19 of 48 (40%) patients. This new and simple technique facilitates diagnosis and management of perplexing tachyarrhythmias in acutely ill patients by physicians with minimal training in the technique.

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