Diagnostic value of electrocardiogram in cardiac tamponade

Med J Malaysia. 2019 Feb;74(1):51-56.


Introduction: We aim to study the diagnostic value of electrocardiogram (ECG) in cardiac tamponade.

Methods: This study was a single centre, retrospective casecontrol study. We recruited 42 patients diagnosed with cardiac tamponade of various aetiologies confirmed by transthoracic echocardiography and 100 controls between January 2011 and December 2015. The ECG criteria of cardiac tamponade we adopted was as follows: 1) Low QRS voltage in a) the limb leads alone, b) in the precordial leads alone or, c) in all leads, 2) PR segment depression, 3) Electrical alternans, and 4) Sinus tachycardia.

Results: Malignancy was the most common causes of cardiac tamponade, the two groups were of similar proportion of gender and ethnicity. We calculated the sensitivity (SN), specificity (SP), positive predictive value (PPV), and negative predictive value (NPV) of each ECG criteria. Among the ECG abnormalities, we noted the SN of 'low voltage in all chest leads' (69%), 'low voltage in all limb leads' (67%) and 'sinus tachycardia' (69%) were higher as compared to 'PR depression' (12%) and 'electrical alternan' (5%). On the other hand, 'low voltage in all chest leads' (98%), 'low voltage in all leads' (99%), 'PR depression' (100%) and 'electrical alternans' (100%) has highest SP.

Conclusion: Our study reaffirmed the findings of previous studies that electrocardiography cannot be used as a screening tool for diagnosing cardiac tamponade due to its low sensitivity. However, with clinical correlation, electrocardiography is a valuable adjuvant test to 'rule in' cardiac tamponade because of its high specificity.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiac Tamponade / diagnosis*
  • Cardiac Tamponade / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity