The Association of Early Electrocardiographic Abnormalities With Brain Injury Severity and Outcome in Severe Traumatic Brain Injury

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The aim of this study was to evaluate the frequency of electrocardiographic (ECG) abnormalities in the acute phase of severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the association with brain injury severity and outcome. In contrast to neurovascular diseases, sparse information is available on this issue. Data of adult patients with severe TBI admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for intracranial pressure monitoring of a level-1 trauma center from 2002 till 2018 were analyzed. Patients with a cardiac history were excluded. An ECG recording was obtained within 24 h after ICU admission. Admission brain computerized tomography (CT)-scans were categorized by Marshall-criteria (diffuse vs. mass lesions) and for location of traumatic lesions. CT-characteristics and maximum Therapy Intensity Level (TILmax) were used as indicators for brain injury severity. We analyzed data of 198 patients, mean (SD) age of 40 +/- 19 years, median GCS score 3 [interquartile range (IQR) 3-6], and 105 patients (53%) had thoracic injury. In-hospital mortality was 30%, with sudden death by cardiac arrest in four patients. The incidence of ECG abnormalities was 88% comprising ventricular repolarization disorders (57%) mostly with ST-segment abnormalities, conduction disorders (45%) mostly with QTc-prolongation, and arrhythmias (38%) mostly of supraventricular origin. More cardiac arrhythmias were observed with increased grading of diffuse brain injury (p = 0.042) or in patients treated with hyperosmolar therapy (TILmax) (65%, p = 0.022). No association was found between ECG abnormalities and location of brain lesions nor with thoracic injury. Multivariate analysis with baseline outcome predictors showed that cardiac arrhythmias were not independently associated with in-hospital mortality (p = 0.097). Only hypotension (p = 0.029) and diffuse brain injury (p = 0.017) were associated with in-hospital mortality. In conclusion, a high incidence of ECG abnormalities was observed in patients with severe TBI in the acute phase after injury. No association between ECG abnormalities and location of brain lesions or presence of thoracic injury was present. Cardiac arrhythmias were indicative for brain injury severity but not independently associated with in-hospital mortality. Therefore, our findings likely suggest that ECG abnormalities should be considered as cardiac mimicry representing the secondary effect of traumatic brain injury allowing for a more rationale use of neuroprotective measures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number597737
Pages (from-to)597737
Number of pages9
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Publication statusPublished - 8-Jan-2021


  • severe traumatic brain injury
  • cardiac dysfunction
  • electrocardiography (ECG)
  • computerized tomography (CT)
  • therapy intensity level (TIL)
  • mortality outcome
  • RISK

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