The Electrocardiogram as a Prognostic Tool for Predicting Major Cardiac Events

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Among patients with cardiac disease, the identification of those who are at low risk and those who are at high risk for major cardiac events is crucial for a rational clinical management of individual patients. A correct noninvasive risk stratification of cardiac patients, in particular, has relevant clinical implications because it would avoid unnecessary exposure to potentially risky invasive diagnostic or interventional procedures in low-risk patients, whereas it would allow an appropriate aggressive diagnostic and therapeutic approach in high-risk patients. Furthermore, the appropriate identification of low- and high-risk patients would also have social and economic implications by favoring optimization of resource distribution and costs. A large number of studies in previous decades provided evidence that several methods and variables derived from the analysis of the electrocardiogram (ECG) are powerful predictors of major cardiac events in several clinical conditions. Despite that, there has been limited attention about how several of these findings can be used in clinical practice. Furthermore, in recent years, most studies about risk stratification of cardiac patients have mainly been focused on the use of a number of serum/plasma biomarkers with reduced attention to ECG variables. Surprisingly, however, there have been few attempts to establish whether the various proposed risk markers add any significant information to that obtainable from ECG methods. In this article, the evidence for the prognostic value of variables derived from the assessment of the ECG signal by several methods and techniques will be briefly reviewed. Because of the largeness of the topic, this review will be necessarily incomplete. Because most of the clinical research in this field concerned risk stratification of patients with coronary artery disease, the article will be largely focused on this population of patients. The role of ECG methods in specific cardiac diseases and, in particular, in the general population of asymptomatic subjects will be briefly discussed when believed appropriate and helpful. Furthermore, only major clinical events (ie, cardiac death, arrhythmic events, acute myocardial infarction) will be taken into account as end points in this article. Minor clinical events (eg, coronary revascularization procedures, coronary artery restenosis, recurrences of symptoms) are indeed less robust as end points because they are widely biased by subjective judgments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-111
Number of pages25
JournalProgress in Cardiovascular Diseases
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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