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Wilderness Environ Med. 2001 Winter;12(4):232-5.

The electrocardiogram in hypothermia.

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Southern General Hospital, Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom.



Hypothermia is known to adversely affect the electrocardiogram (ECG) in many cases. This study set out to determine the incidence of defined cardiac dysrhythmias, J waves, and conduction abnormalities in urban hypothermia.


A prospective, multicenter study was carried out to determine the incidence of defined cardiac rhythms in patients suffering from accidental urban hypothermia. The ECGs were independently analyzed by 2 of the authors and placed into 1 of 6 rhythm categories.


Seventy-three ECGs were analyzed. Normal sinus rhythm was the most common rhythm (41%). Overall mortality was 36% (26/73). J waves occurred in 36% of survivors and 38% of non-survivors and were, therefore, not prognostic. Shivering artifact was present in 66% of survivors and 38% of nonsurvivors. Although there was no statistically significant association between J waves and survival (P = .21), the presence of shivering artifact was associated with survival in severe hypothermia (P = .047). Atrial fibrillation and junctional bradycardia were both associated with high mortality.


This study confirms that the ECG is abnormal in the majority of patients suffering from accidental hypothermia. J waves do not appear to be independently prognostic in hypothermia. The results suggest that the inability to mount a shivering response may be associated with a poorer outcome; this finding requires further study.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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