The ECG in pulmonary embolism. Predictive value of negative T waves in precordial leads--80 case reports

Chest. 1997 Mar;111(3):537-43. doi: 10.1378/chest.111.3.537.


Background and study objective: The value of the ECG for the diagnosis of pulmonary embolism (PE) is debatable. Once the diagnosis of PE has been established, however, the ECG could allow the massive forms to be distinguished. The purpose of our study was to analyze the ECG signs in patients hospitalized for PE in a cardiology unit.

Design: Taking a series of 80 consecutive patients hospitalized for PE, we analyzed the ECGs on admission and then during hospitalization. We sought to evaluate changes in ECG signs compared with angiographic and hemodynamic changes in PE.

Results: T-wave inversion in the precordial leads is the most common abnormality (68%), and represents the ECG sign best correlated to the severity of the PE. Among those patients with anterior T-wave inversion, 90% had a Miller index over 50% (mean, 60 +/- 8%). Eighty-one percent had a mean pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) over 30 mm Hg (mean, 37 +/- 8%). This subepicardial ischemic pattern is an even stronger marker of severity when it appears as early as the first day (p < 0.01). Its reversibility is correlated to the changes in PE. After thrombolysis in particular, normalization of repolarization systematically indicates mean Miller and PAP indexes of < 20% and < 20 mm Hg, respectively.

Conclusions: The anterior subepicardial ischemic pattern is the most frequent ECG sign of massive PE. This parameter is easy to obtain and reflects the severity of PE. Its reversibility before the sixth day points to a good outcome or high level of therapeutic efficacy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anticoagulants / therapeutic use
  • Blood Pressure
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pulmonary Artery / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Embolism / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Embolism / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Embolism / physiopathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Thrombolytic Therapy


  • Anticoagulants