The relationship between circulating catecholamines and ST waveform in the fetal lamb electrocardiogram during hypoxia

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1984 May 15;149(2):190-5. doi: 10.1016/0002-9378(84)90197-2.


Previous studies from this laboratory have shown that changes in the ST waveform in the fetal electrocardiogram are a sign of fetal asphyxia. In the present study, seven chronically instrumented fetal lambs between 117 and 143 days' gestation were studied during 16 one-hour periods of maternally induced hypoxia. The aim was to test the hypothesis of a relationship between the concentration of circulating catecholamines and T-wave amplitude. The response to hypoxia was aged-dependent. Fetuses below 126 days of gestation did not react with electrocardiographic changes and output of epinephrine unless acidosis occurred. In more mature fetuses, hypoxia per se would induce a surge of epinephrine and changes in the ST waveform. Overall there was a strong correlation between the T/QRS ratio and the level of circulating epinephrine. During normoxia, epinephrine was undetectable (less than 0.1 nmol/L) in most fetuses; norepinephrine showed an increase at term. The analysis showed one fetus with chronic changes in the ST waveform (T/QRS ratio greater than 0.30) related to a marked increase in the plasma level of epinephrine in spite of normal blood gas values. These findings complement previous results in the acute and chronically instrumented fetal lamb and suggest that changes in the ST waveform expressed as T/QRS ratio identify a change to anaerobic myocardial metabolism mediated by beta-adrenergic stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acidosis / blood
  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Catecholamines / blood*
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Epinephrine / blood
  • Female
  • Fetal Hypoxia / blood*
  • Fetal Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Norepinephrine / blood
  • Pregnancy
  • Sheep
  • Time Factors


  • Catecholamines
  • Norepinephrine
  • Epinephrine