Which of the following is the most likely underlying cause for this patient’s condition?
This patient presents to the emergency department with vague and nonspecific symptoms of nausea, fatigue, and palpitations. The initial EKG (EKG #1) demonstrates a wide-complex tachycardia (QRS >120msec) with a regular rhythm. The differential diagnosis for wide-complex tachyarrhythmias include ventricular tachycardia (monomorphic ventricular tachycardia), torsades de pointes (polymorphic ventricular tachycardia), coarse ventricular fibrillation, supraventricular tachycardias with aberrancy (i.e. underlying Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome or Ventricular Bundle Branch Block), electrolyte abnormalities (i.e., Hyperkalemia), and from medications (i.e., Na channel blocking agents). If the history is unclear or the patient shows signs of instability, Ventricular tachycardia should always be the assumed tachyarrhythmia. This is managed with electrical cardioversion or with medications (i.e., amiodarone, procainamide, lidocaine), depending on the patient’s symptoms and hemodynamic stability.
The prior EKG for the patient (EKG #2) is helpful in showing that the patient does not have a wide QRS complex at baseline. There also are no EKG signs of Wolf Parkinson White Syndrome (Choice B) on EKG #2, making this choice incorrect. Signs of this cardiac pre-excitation syndrome on EKG include a shortened PR interval and a delta wave (slurred upstroke at the beginning of the QRS complex). Anxiety (Choice D) can cause sinus tachycardia and be a symptom associated with any arrhythmia, but it is not the underlying cause for this patient’s bizarre wide-complex tachydysrhythmia. On a closer look, the patient’s EKG (EKG #1) demonstrates tall, peaked T waves in the precordial leads. This supports a diagnosis of hyperkalemia. Other signs of hyperkalemia on EKG include flattened or absent P waves, widened QRS complexes, or a sine wave morphology. A common underlying cause of hyperkalemia is renal disease (Choice C). Ischemic heart disease (Choice A) is a common underlying cause for ventricular tachycardia. Ventricular tachycardia is less likely in this case given the presence of peaked T waves and the lack of fusion beats, capture beats, or signs of AV dissociation on the 12-lead EKG. Correct Answer: C
- Brady W.J., & Glass III G.F. (2020). Cardiac rhythm disturbances. Tintinalli J.E., Ma O, Yealy D.M., Meckler G.D., Stapczynski J, Cline D.M., & Thomas S.H.(Eds.), Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9e. McGraw-Hill. https://accessmedicine.mhmedical.com/content.aspx?bookid=2353§ionid=218687685
Burns, E. (2020). Ventricular Tachycardia – Monomorphic VT. Life in The Fast Lane. Retrieved from https://litfl.com/ventricular-tachycardia-monomorphic-ecg-library/