Should ECG criteria for Low QRS voltage (LQRSV) be specific for Sex?

Am Heart J. 2024 Apr:270:117-124. doi: 10.1016/j.ahj.2024.02.002. Epub 2024 Feb 9.


Introduction: Low QRS peak-to-nadir voltage (LQRSV) is associated with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) and other cardiomyopathies. Recent studies have proposed criteria for LQRSV when screening athletes for cardiovascular disease. These criteria have not yet been evaluated in a large population of healthy young athletes.

Methods: The target population was 10,728 (42.5% female, 57.5% male, mean age 18.1 ± 4.3 years) athletes who participated in mass ECG screenings between 2014 and 2021 at multiple sites across the United States including grade schools (11%), high schools (32%), colleges (50%), and professional athletic teams (6%) with digitally recorded ECGs and a standardized protocol. Since by design, complete follow up for outcomes and the results of testing were not available. Including only ECGs from initial evaluation among athletes 14-35 years of age and excluding those with right bundle branch block, left bundle branch block, Wolf-Parkinson-White pattern, reversed leads and 3 clinically diagnosed cardiomyopathies at Stanford, 8,679 (58% males, 42% females) remained eligible for analysis. QRS voltage was analyzed for each ECG lead and LQRSV criteria were applied and stratified by sex.

Results: QRS voltage was lower in all leads in female athletes compared to male athletes. Using traditional limb lead criteria or precordial lead criteria, the prevalence of LQRSV was significantly lower in males than females (P < .001). Strikingly, LQRSV using the Sokolow-Lyon Index was present in 1.9% of males and 9.8% of females (P < .001). Applying first percentile for LQRS amplitude criteria provided possible values for screening young athletes for LQRSV.

Conclusions: LQRSV is more common among female athletes than male athletes using established criteria. Using first percentile sex-specific cut points should be considered in future analyses. Proposed novel LQRSV criteria in young athletes should be specific for males and females.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia*
  • Bundle-Branch Block
  • Cardiomyopathies* / diagnosis
  • Electrocardiography / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Young Adult