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Eur J Clin Invest. 2004 Mar;34(3):218-23.

Bradycardia and sinus arrest during percutaneous ethanol injection therapy for hepatocellular carcinoma.

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University of Vienna Medical School, Vienna, Austria.



Percutaneous ethanol injection (PEI) is an established method in the treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and considered a safe procedure, with severe complications occurring rarely. Cardiac arrhythmias have not been reported to date. Aim of the study was to investigate the occurrence of dysrhythmias during PEI.


Twenty-six consecutive patients with inoperable HCC were included. During ultrasound-guided PEI with 95% ethanol, electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring was performed before starting and continuously during PEI.


During PEI a significant reduction in mean heart rate (> 20%) was seen in 15 of 26 (58%) patients. In 11 of 26 patients (42%) occurrence of sinuatrial block (SAB) or atrioventricular block (AVB) was observed after a median time of 9 s (range 4-50) from the start of PEI with a median length of 24 s (range 12-480). Clinical symptoms were seen in two patients, including episodes of unconsciousness, seizure-like symptoms in both and a respiratory arrest during PEI in one patient, requiring mechanical ventilation. In four of 12 patients with repeat interventions, dysrhythmias were reproducible during monthly performed procedures. There was a significant association between the occurrence of SAB or AVB and the amount of instilled alcohol (P = 0.03) and post-PEI serum ethanol levels (P = 0.03).


Bradycardia and block formation occur frequently during PEI. These symptoms could be explained by a vasovagal reaction and/or the direct effect of ethanol on the sinus node or the right atrial conduction system. Ethanol dose is an important factor for the occurrence of SAB/AVB. ECG-monitoring seems mandatory during PEI. Prophylactic use of intravenously administered Atropine might be useful.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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