ECG diagnosis and classification of acute coronary syndromes

Ann Noninvasive Electrocardiol. 2014 Jan;19(1):4-14. doi: 10.1111/anec.12130. Epub 2013 Dec 30.


In acute coronary syndromes, the electrocardiogram (ECG) provides important information about the presence, extent, and severity of myocardial ischemia. At times, the changes are typical and clear. In other instances, changes are subtle and might be recognized only when ECG recording is repeated after changes in the severity of symptoms. ECG interpretation is an essential part of the initial evaluation of patients with symptoms suspected to be related to myocardial ischemia, along with focused history and physical examination. Patients with ST-segment elevation on their electrocardiogram and symptoms compatible with acute myocardial ischemia/infarction should be referred for emergent reperfusion therapy. However, it should be emphasized that a large number of patients may have ST-elevation without having acute ST-elevation acute coronary syndrome, while acute ongoing transmural ischemia due to an abrupt occlusion of an epicardial coronary artery may occur in patients with ST-elevation less than the thresholds defined by the guidelines. Up-sloping ST-segment depression with positive T waves is increasingly recognized as a sign of regional subendocardial ischemia associated with severe obstruction of the left anterior descending coronary artery. Widespread ST-segment depression, often associated with inverted T waves and ST-segment elevation in lead aVR during episodes of chest pain, may represent diffuse subendocardial ischemia caused by severe coronary artery disease. In case of hemodynamic compromise, urgent coronary angiography has been increasingly recommended for these patients.

Keywords: ST-segment depression; ST-segment elevation; acute coronary syndrome; electrocardiogram; myocardial infarction; risk stratification; triage.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Coronary Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Electrocardiography / methods*
  • Humans