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New Left Bundle Branch Block is a poor indicator of coronary occlusion

Posted Mar 08 2010 11:19am
Case 1:

A 55 yo male with a history of hypertension but no MI or CHF presented with 5 days of progressive dyspnea without chest pain. Here is his ECG


There is sinus tachycardia with left bundle branch block (LBBB). A previous ECG from one year prior was normal without LBBB. According to the ACC and AHA, new LBBB in the presence of ischemic symptoms is an indication for reperfusion therapy. Cardiologists widely realize that, in reality, this is not a specific indication. Physicians do not follow this indication because, in their experience, most patients with new LBBB do not have coronary occlusion unless they also have some specific indicators of occlusion, known as the Sgarbossa criteria, or the Sgarbossa criteria as modified by Smith (data to be published). These criteria are dependent on the fact that, in LBBB, the ST segment and T wave (repolarization) are in the opposite direction from the major deflection of the QRS.

Sgarbossa criteria are 1) concordant ST elevation on at least 1 mm in at least 1 lead (5 points) 2) concordant ST depression in V1-V3 (leads that always have a negative QRS in LBBB)(3 points) and 3) 5 mm of discordant ST elevation in leads with a negative QRS (excessive discordance) (2 points because it was "only" 89% specific). I have modified only the last criterion by making it proportional to the QRS. Using angiographic data, I have adjusted the excessive discordance criteria number 3 so that the discordant ST elevation is only significant if it is out of proportion to the QRS. Specifically, I have found that if the ST segment as measured at the J point and relative to the PR segment is > 0.20 the depth of the preceding S-wave, in just one lead of V1-V4, that it is likely to be coronary occlusion.

This new LBBB shown above in case 1 has no concordance (all ST segments and T waves are in the opposite direction from the QRS; this is the normal configuration for LBBB). However, according to the Sgarbossa criteria, there is excessive discordance as defined by ST elevation of 5 mm in lead V2 (although this did not satisfy Sgarbossa's point system criterion, which gives only 2 of the necessary 3 points for excessive discordance). By the new criterion, the discordant ST elevation is not excessive (5/35 = 0.14 which is less than 0.20). Thus, by the new criterion this is a true negative, but by Sgarbossa's criterion, it would get 2 points and be highly suspicious for acute STEMI. The reason that Sgarbossa's criterion was not specific enough is that many patients have high QRS voltage and resulting high discordant ST elevation, at baseline.

The BNP was 1200; an echo revealed global LV dysfunction with EF of 20% and no evidence of wall motion abnormality. The troponins were negative. The use of a 5 mm absolute criterion would have resulted in a false positive cath lab activation.

Case 2:

This 89 yo m presented after syncope during exertion, with no chest pain. He had a loud systolic murmur at the left sternal border that radiated to the carotids, consistent with severe aortic stenosis.
Here is the initial ECG

The first troponin returned positive at 0.20 ng/ml (LoD .04 ng/ml, 99% reference less than 0.1 ng/ml) and a second ECG was recorded. At no time did the patient have chest pain.


This is also new LBBB, this time without any specific criteria positive. The patient did have release of troponin but never had chest pain. The clinicians discussed activating the cath lab based on new LBBB, but this patient had neither CP nor dyspnea and thus is not a candidate even under ACC AHA guidelines. His only symptom was syncope, which was explained by aortic stenosis.

Furthermore, the troponin elevation can be explained exertion in the presence of aortic stenosis, due to demand ischemia (or "type II" MI, not caused by acute coronary syndrome and thus not requiring intensive antiplatelet or antithrombotic therapy).

A great majority of patients with ischemic symptoms and new LBBB do not have acute coronary occlusion and do not need immediate reperfusion therapy. Some do have "NSTEMI," but the vast majority who have coronary occlusion will meet the modified Sgarbossa criteria.

How this should affect global guidelines such as ACC AHA is unclear. But what is clear is that clinicians find new LBBB akin to crying wolf, and no longer follow the guidelines.
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