New Insights Into the Use of the 12-Lead Electrocardiogram for Diagnosing Acute Myocardial Infarction in the Emergency Department

Can J Cardiol. 2018 Feb;34(2):132-145. doi: 10.1016/j.cjca.2017.11.011. Epub 2017 Nov 29.


The 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) remains the most immediately accessible and widely used initial diagnostic tool for guiding management in patients with suspected myocardial infarction (MI). Although the development of high-sensitivity cardiac troponin assays has improved the rule-in and rule-out and risk stratification of acute MI without ST elevation, the immediate management of the subset of acute MI with acute coronary occlusion depends on integrating clinical presentation and ECG findings. Careful interpretation of the ECG might yield subtle features suggestive of ischemia that might facilitate more rapid triage of patients with subtle acute coronary occlusion or, conversely, in identification of ST-elevation MI mimics (pseudo ST-elevation MI patterns). Our goal in this review article is to consider recent advances in the use of the ECG to diagnose coronary occlusion MIs, including the application of rules that allow MI to be diagnosed on the basis of atypical ECG manifestations. Such rules include the modified Sgarbossa criteria allowing identification of acute MI in left bundle branch block or ventricular pacing, the 3- and 4-variable formula to differentiate normal ST elevation (formerly called early repolarization) from subtle ECG signs of left anterior descending coronary artery occlusion, the differentiation of ST elevation of left ventricular aneurysm from that of acute anterior MI, and the use of lead aVL in the recognition of inferior MI. Improved use of the ECG is essential to improving the diagnosis and appropriate early management of acute coronary occlusion MIs, which will lead to improved outcomes for patients who present with acute coronary syndrome.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bundle-Branch Block / diagnosis
  • Coronary Occlusion / diagnosis
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Heart Aneurysm / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Hypertrophy, Left Ventricular / diagnosis
  • Myocardial Infarction / diagnosis*
  • Pericarditis / diagnosis
  • Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy / diagnosis