ECG Diagnosis: Hypothermia

 


Joel T Levis, MD, PhD, FACEP, FAAEM

Fall 2010 - Volume 14 Number 3

https://doi.org/10.7812/TPP/10-087

An Osborn wave (also referred to as the J wave) is a characteristic ECG finding for hypothermia consisting of an extra deflection on the ECG at the terminal junction of the QRS complex and the beginning of the ST-segment takeoff.1 Osborn waves usually occur when the core body temperature falls below 90°F (32°C), and are believed to result from an exaggerated outward potassium current leading to repolarization abnormality.2 They can also be found in other conditions such as hypercalcemia.3 Other ECG findings in patients with hypothermia can include prolongation of the PR, QRS and QT intervals, T wave inversions, and various dysrhythmias including atrial fibrillation, sinus bradycardia, atrioventricular block, and ventricular fibrillation. Fatal ventricular fibrillation or asystole can occur in hypothermic patients when core body temperature falls below 82.4°F (28°C).1

References
1.    Mareedu RK, Grandhe NP, Gangineni S, Quinn DL. Classic EKG changes of hypothermia. Clin Med Res 2008;6(3-4):107-8.
2.    Olgers TJ, Ubels FL. The ECG in hypothermia: Osborn waves. Neth J Med 2006 Oct;64(9):350,353.
3.    Van Mieghem C, Sabbe M, Knockaert D. The clinical value of the ECG in noncardiac conditions. Chest 2004 Apr;125(4):1561-76.

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