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Ann R Coll Surg Engl. 2001 May;83(3):174-6.

Colorectal patients and cardiac arrhythmias detected on the surgical high dependency unit.

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Department of Colorectal Surgery, Hope Hospital, Stott Lane, Salford M6 8HD, UK.



Surgical high dependency unit (SHDU) care is becoming an integral feature of colorectal surgical practice. Routine ECG monitoring is a feature of surgical care in this setting. The aim of this study was to determine the incidence and outcome of cardiac arrhythmias detected in an SHDU population of colorectal patients.


226 patients over a 12 month period were admitted to a 6-bedded SHDU under the care of 3 colorectal surgeons. A total of 29 patients (13%) had significant arrhythmias on ECG monitoring (median age 74 years, range 35-88 years). Pre-existing ischaemic heart disease was present in 9 patients--colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease accounted for the underlying problem in the majority of these patients.


Equal numbers of supraventricular and ventricular arrhythmias were detected--atrial fibrillation being the most commonly detected abnormality. Therapeutic intervention (electrolyte correction and anti-arrhythmic agents) was required in 23 patients. One patient required DC shock for ventricular fibrillation. Seven patients were transferred to the heart care unit or intensive care unit to manage their cardiac problems. Two patients died as a result of their cardiac problem, 27 were discharged home alive--3 on long-term anti-arrhythmic therapy.


The postoperative environment of colorectal patients has been radically altered by the introduction of the SHDU. If colorectal surgeons are to remain central to the postoperative care of their patients, all surgical staff will require training in the recognition and protocol prevention and management of cardiac arrhythmias. Certification of colorectal surgeons in advanced life support is more relevant to colorectal surgery than certification in trauma care.

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