Objective: Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often have abnormal ECGs. Our aim was to separate the effects on ECG by airway obstruction, emphysema and right ventricular (RV) afterload in patients with COPD.
Methods: A cross-sectional study was performed on 101 patients with COPD without left heart disease and 32 healthy age-matched controls. Body mass index (BMI) was measured, and pulmonary function tests, ECG, echocardiography and right heart catheterisation (only patients) were performed. Variables were grouped into (1) airway obstruction by FEV% (percentage of forced expiratory volume)_predicted, (2) emphysema by residual volume/total lung capacity and residual volume (percent of predicted) and (3) RV afterload by mean pulmonary pressure, artery compliance, vascular resistance and RV wall thickness.
Results: In multivariate regression analysis, emphysema correlated negatively to R+S amplitudes in horizontal and frontal leads, RV/left ventricle (LV) end-diastolic volume ratio to horizontal amplitudes and BMI negatively to frontal amplitudes. Increased airway obstruction, RV afterload and BMI correlated with horizontal QRS-axis clockwise rotation. Airway obstruction, RV afterload, RV/LV end-diastolic volume ratio and BMI correlated to the Sokolow-Lyon Index for RV, and RV afterload negatively to Sokolow-LyonIndex for LV. Several classical ECG changes could, however, not be ascribed to specific mechanisms.
Conclusions: In COPD, the various pathophysiological mechanisms modify the ECG differently. Increased airway obstruction and RV afterload mainly increase the Sokolow-Lyon Index for RV mass and associate with clockwise rotation of the horizontal QRS-axis, whereas emphysema reduces the QRS amplitudes. BMI is an equally important determinant for the majority of the ECG changes.
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