Twenty four hour ambulatory electrocardiograms were recorded in 60 patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy. The diagnosis was based on clinical, laboratory, and cardiac catheterisation findings. All patients had a left ventricular ejection fraction less than 0.55; in 39 it was less than 0.40. Ventricular extrasystoles were evident in all patients: they were rare in 11 (18%), moderately frequent in 24 (40%), and frequent in 25 (42%). Multiform extrasystoles were recorded in 57 patients (95%), paired ventricular extrasystoles in 47 (78%), and non-sustained ventricular tachycardias consisting of three to 19 beats in 25 (42%) of the 60 patients studied. Eight patients had more than five episodes of ventricular tachycardia a day. Patients with atrial fibrillation had the same frequency and grade of ventricular arrhythmias as those with sinus rhythm. Patients with infrequent and frequent ventricular extrasystoles could not be differentiated on the basis of the clinical or haemodynamic findings. The mean values of NYHA functional class, cardiac index, left ventricular end diastolic pressure, and ejection fraction were, however, significantly different in patients with and without ventricular tachycardia. During follow up of 12 +/- 5 months seven patients died; all seven had an ejection fraction less than 0.40. In four patients who died of congestive heart failure, but in only one of the three patients who died a sudden cardiac death, ventricular tachycardia was recorded during ambulatory monitoring. High grade ventricular arrhythmias are often seen in patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy; patients with ventricular tachycardia have more impairment of left ventricular function than patients without ventricular tachycardia; and ambulatory monitoring may be of little help in identifying patients at increased risk of sudden cardiac death.
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