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Prognostic value of ventricular arrhythmias and heart rate variability in patients with unstable angina


Objectives: To assess the prognostic value of ventricular arrhythmias (VA) and heart rate variability (HRV) in patients with unstable angina.

Design: Multicentre prospective study.

Setting: 17 cardiological centres in Italy.

Patients: 543 consecutive patients with unstable angina and preserved left ventricular function (ejection fraction ⩾40%) enrolled in the SPAI (Stratificazione Prognostica dell’Angina Instabile) study.

Methods: Patients underwent 24 h ECG Holter monitoring within 24 h of hospital admission. Tested variables were frequent ventricular extrasystoles (⩾10/h), complex (that is, frequent or repetitive) VA, and bottom quartile values of time-domain and frequency-domain HRV variables. Primary end points were in-hospital and six-month total and cardiac deaths.

Results: Eight patients died in hospital (1.5%) and 32 (5.9%, 29 cardiac) during follow up. Both complex VA and frequent extrasystoles were strongly predictive of death in hospital and at follow up, even after adjustment for clinical (age, sex, cardiac risk factors and history of myocardial infarction) and laboratory (troponin I, C reactive protein and transient myocardial ischaemia on Holter monitoring) variables. At univariate analysis bottom quartile values of three HRV variables (standard deviation of RR intervals index, low-frequency amplitude and low to high frequency ratio) were associated with in-hospital death, and bottom quartile values of most HRV variables predicted six-month fatal events. At multivariate Cox survival analysis reduced low-frequency amplitude was consistently found to be independently associated with fatal end points.

Conclusion: In patients with unstable angina with preserved myocardial function, both VA and HRV are independent predictors of in-hospital and medium-term mortality, suggesting that these factors should be taken into account in the risk stratification of these patients.

  • HF, high frequency
  • HRV, heart rate variability
  • LF, low frequency
  • LV, left ventricular
  • MI, myocardial infarction
  • NPV, negative predictive value
  • NSVT, non-sustained ventricular tachycardia
  • PPV, positive predictive value
  • RR, relative risk
  • SDNNi, mean of the standard deviations of RR intervals of all 5 min segments in 24 h
  • SPAI, Stratificazione Prognostica dell’Angina Instabile
  • VA, ventricular arrhythmias
  • unstable angina
  • ventricular arrhythmias
  • heart rate variability
  • prognosis

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