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J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 1993 Oct;4(5):596-608.

Cardiac arrhythmias in Chagas' heart disease.

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Division of Cardiology, Ramos Mejia Hospital, Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Chagas' disease is a chronic parasitosis affecting most Latin American countries. Its most important clinical manifestation is a late developing chronic myocarditis and, much less frequently, an early acute myocarditis. Chagasic myocardial damage is microfocal and disseminated throughout the heart. In most cases, the coexistence of areas of myocytic degeneration, inflammatory infiltration, and fibrosis suggests a permanent evolving process. Commonly, chronic chagasic myocarditis resembles a dilated cardiomyopathy, with characteristic ECG abnormalities (atrial and ventricular extrasystoles, intraventricular and/or AV conduction disturbances, and primary ST-T wave changes). Since myocardial damage is scattered throughout the heart, the ECG abnormalities (arrhythmias, conduction disturbances, and repolarization changes) are also representative of the widespread cardiac involvement. Thus, sick sinus syndrome, atrial extrasystoles, intraatrial conduction disturbances, and atrial fibrillation or flutter are common findings in different stages of the disease. At the ventricular level, both conduction disturbances and arrhythmias are conspicuous expressions of the myocardial damage. Right bundle branch block alone or in combination with left anterior hemiblock are the most common conduction defects. Further compromise of the conduction system can lead to different degrees of AV block. Chagas' disease is the main cause of bundle branch block and AV block in endemic areas. In advanced cases of Chagas' heart disease, ventricular premature contractions are extremely frequent, multiform, and repetitive (couplets and runs of ventricular tachycardia), and show R on T phenomenon. These arrhythmias are usually aggravated by increased sympathetic tone, implying an enhanced risk of cardiac sudden death among chagasic patients, which is sometimes the first manifestation of the illness. Chronic chagasic myocarditis is the leading cause of cardiovascular death, mostly as a consequence of heart failure and sudden death, in areas where the disease is endemic.

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