Because advanced age is the strongest independent risk factor for the development of supraventricular arrhythmias after lung resection, we compared the incidence and premorbid events of supraventricular arrhythmias after pneumonectomy in young and elderly dogs with the aim of better understanding potential age-related arrhythmogenic mechanisms. Right pneumonectomy was performed in 15 male mongrel dogs ("old" > or =8 yr [n = 8], "young" <4 yr [n = 7]) and the electrocardiogram continuously recorded by an implantable telemetry system for 1 wk before euthanizing. After surgery, 7 of 8 older animals (88%) developed a total of 23 episodes of sustained (>30 s) paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), compared with 0 of 7 (0%) young dogs, P = 0.0014. Analysis of heart rate over the 60 min preceding the onset of SVT revealed a progressive increase in sinus rhythm beginning 15 min before the arrhythmia. Comparison of the heart rate and rhythm obtained in younger animals from the corresponding postoperative hour demonstrated that although older animals developed more atrial (P = 0.03) and ventricular premature contractions (P = 0.056) and episodes of nonsustained ventricular tachycardia (P = 0.01), heart rate was similar for both groups until the increase in elderly dogs preceding the onset of SVT. Histologic examination of the atria showed interstitial fibrosis in old but not young animals. In addition, 4 of 8 (50%) elderly animals exhibited an inflammatory response within the atria consistent with acute myo- and epicarditis. We conclude that elderly dogs have an increased supraventricular arrhythmogenic potential within the first week after pneumonectomy than younger animals, perhaps because of increased atrial fibrosis and inflammation. Heart rate analysis before SVT onset suggests that adrenergic predominance was a probable responsible trigger.
Implications: In this canine pneumonectomy model, advanced age was associated with an increased incidence of supraventricular arrhythmias, perhaps because of increased atrial fibrosis and inflammation.