In patients with evidence of dual AV conduction, a premature atrial depolarization is normally conducted via a fast conducting pathway with a long refractory period. At a critically timed coupling interval, the effective refractory period is reached and now the impulse is conducted over a pathway with a slow conduction velocity and a short effective refractory period. At this moment in the His bundle electrocardiogram, a sudden increase in the AH interval occurs which is called the 'break' phenomenon. This phenomenon was studied in 14 patients, with a history of supraventricular paroxysmal tachycardia, at the patient's own heart rate, at different paced heart rates, and after the administration of atropine. In 11 patients the 'break' phenomenon could be elicited during sinus rhythm,; in 3 when the heart rate was accelerated. The effective refractory period of the fast conducting pathway was prolonged in 9 patients, remained unchanged in 3, and was shortened in 2 when the heart rate was increased. The effective refractory period of the slow conduting pathway was reached when block occurred proximal to the His bundle. This parameter was increased in 8 patients, remained unchanged in 3, and was decreased in 1 patient with augmentation of the heart rate. This effective refractory period was not measured in 2 patients. Atropine led to a shortening of the refractory period of both pathways in 8 patients studied. Atrial echo phenomena indicating the beginning of a re-entry circuit occurred at an AH prolongation that was not always identical to that measured at the point of 'break'. Widening, as well as narrowing, of the echo zone was found, indicating that the re-entry circuit was in a state of labile equilibrium. In cases where shortening of the pathways involved in the re-entry circuit was found, structures other than nodal may exist; therefore paranodal bypass must be considered.
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