UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Cardiology

Title: CNS events and the ECG

Keywords: stroke, intracranial, electrocardiography (PubMed Search)

Posted: 8/3/2008 by Amal Mattu, MD (Updated: 7/22/2024)
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Hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes are well-known to produce ECG changes that resemble cardiac ischemia. Large T-wave inversions are the most classic findings, but ST changes, prolonged QT interval, tachydysrhythmias, bradydysrhythmias, and AV blocks have also been described.

The exact cause of these changes is uncertain. One theory is that the strokes can produce catecholamine surges which cause the changes; another theory is that intracranial events produce a vagal response that causes ECG changes. Regardless of the reason, one should always keep stroke in the differential diagnosis for patients with ischemic-appearing ECG changes, especially when the patient has an altered mental status or neurologic deficit.