An ST elevation is considered significant if the vertical distance inside the ECG trace and the baseline at a point 0.24 seconds after the J-point is at least 0.9 mV (usually representing 1 mm or 1 small square) in a limb lead or 0.29 mV (2 mm or 2 small squares) in a precordial lead. The baseline is either the PR interval or the TP interval. This measure has a false positive rate of 15-20% (which is slightly higher in women than men) and a false negative rate of 20-30%.
The ST segment corresponds to a period of ventricular depolarization. Because of the complete depolarization of the ventricles, in theory there is no net movement of charge during the ST segment. Repolarization of the ventricle normally occurs during the T wave, however one cause of ST segment elevation is the early repolarization of the heart wall due to transmural ischemia. During transmural (subepicardial ischemia) the injured cells are "relatively" closer to the epicardial surface. In the case of depolarization, healthier cells will typically displace a larger amplitude and duration of depolarization. During systole, a ventricle with subepicardial ischemia will exhibit cells with higher amplitude of depolarization in the cardiac endocardium. Under physiological conditions the ST segment is isoelectric (i.e. same charge across the myocardium), however in some circumstances (e.g. transmural infarct) there is partial depolarization of the cardiac myocytes that have undergone ischemia. A consequence of decreased O2 perfusion will be decreased production of ATP, which is needed to operate the Na+/K+ATPase which is responsible for the final stages of myocyte repolarization (-80mV to -90mV), thus these cells will be partially depolarized. The partial depolarization in these cells causes negative charges to accumulate on their surfaces, generating a vector that points towards the normal cardiac cells (which have positive charges on their surface). This vector points away from the chest EKG leads, causing a downward deflection in the TP segment. However since the TP segment is the baseline of the EKG, the machine corrects for this by raising TP to baseline (i.e. flat line) which results in ST elevation. Also see ST depression.
The exact topology and distribution of the affected areas depend on the underlying condition. Thus, ST elevation may be present on all or some leads of ECG.
It can be associated with:
- Myocardial infarction (see also ECG in myocardial infarction). ST elevation in select leads is more common with MI. ST elevation only occurs in full thickness infarction
- Prinzmetal's angina
- Acute pericarditis ST elevation in all leads is more common with acute pericarditis.
- Left ventricular aneurysm
- Blunt trauma to the chest resulting in a cardiac contusion
- Acute myocarditis
- Pulmonary embolism
- Brugada syndrome
- J-point elevation
- Early repolarization
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