EKG case: Elderly male with persistent tachycardia

What's your assessment and care for a patient who has tachyarrhythmia, an abnormal EKG and elevated troponin?

Article updated August 2, 2017

An 83-year-old male is brought to the emergency department in a private car by his son and wife. He complains that his heart is beating fast. He states that he felt this a little bit last night, but it went away spontaneously. He cannot tell you how long it lasted. There was no chest pain or other symptoms. He slept well.

Patient presentation: Persistent tachycardia

This afternoon he was exercising when the feeling of a fast heart rate feeling returned. It has persisted for a "few hours." The patient took his blood pressure at home with a digital blood pressure cuff and reports that his heart rate was 170 and his systolic blood pressure was 90 mm Hg.

He continues to complain of a fast heart rate sensation. He denies chest pain or pressure and denies dyspnea, sweating or nausea/vomiting.

Primary assessment:

The patient’s primary assessment is as follows:

  • Awake and alert and oriented to name, day, date, month, year, location and president
  • Skin is pink, warm and dry
  • No respiratory distress, speaking in full sentences.
  • Lungs clear and equal without rales or wheezes
  • Heart with tachycardic apical heart sounds and strong tachycardic radial pulse
  • No murmur is heard
  • Abdomen is soft and non-tender
  • Legs without edema, swelling or evidence of deep vein thrombosis
  • He denies chest pain, pressure, tightness or discomfort
  • He denies shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, or any other complaints or concerns
  • He is speaking in a jovial manner and laughing with you (or maybe at you)
  • He appears younger than his stated age of 83

Patient's vital signs:

Heart rate: 180 bpm and regular
Respirations: 16 rpm and non-labored
Blood Pressure: 124/76 mm Hg
Temp: 97.9 F oral
SpO2: 98 percent room air 

Past medical history:

The patient has had coronary artery bypass graft surgeries in four vessels about 18 months ago. Reports from that time state he had presented with complaints of fast heart rate to this same emergency department . He was transferred to a tertiary cardiac care center 30 minutes away by ground EMS.

He reports that he had an angiogram that showed "blockages," but that "stents would not work," so he had the CABG. He does not know which vessels were bypassed.

He reports that since his surgery he has done well with no episodes of chest pain or sensation of fast heart rate. He has dyslipidemia which is elevated cholesterol. He still participates in cardiac rehab and that is what he was doing this afternoon when his palpitations began.

He denies any other significant past medical history. He denies prior surgeries.


No known drug allergies 

Aspirin 81mg po daily
Vytorin daily

Initial 12 Lead EKG (click for larger image):

Complete your own interpretation of the 12-lead EKG using the steps recommended by the EKG Club.

Patient treatment:

The patient is placed on continuous EKG monitor, SpO2 monitor and non-invasive BP cuff. An IV is established in the right antecubital space with an 18 gauge angiocath and blood is drawn.

Adenosine (Adenocard) is given, 6 mg rapid IVP with a rapid saline flush. There is no change in the rhythm.

Adenosine is repeated at 12mg. There is no change in heart rate or rhythm.

The patient did complain of a flushed sensation each time.

The patient's heart rate remained at 180-190 bpm after adenosine administration. His blood pressure remained around 130/70. He reports no chest pain or dyspnea.

Cardizem (diltiazem) 20 mg is given in a slow IVP with rapid conversion to the EKG shown below.

Repeat your interpretation of the 12-lead EKG using the steps recommended by the EKG Club.

He remains pain free and no longer complains of a fast heart rate. After 30 minutes, a third 12-lead EKG is obtained.

The T wave inversions seen in the last (third) EKG are compared to an EKG performed 18 months ago. The old EKG was normal and showed no ST or T wave changes.

The patient remains awake, alert and asymptomatic. The family is at his bedside and he is laughing and joking with them.

The labs are returned and there is an elevated Tropinin-I level, indicative of an acute myocardial injury. The rest of his labs are within normal limits.

Treatment recommendation for the patient

You present your concerns to the patient and his family: the initial tachyarrhythmia, the abnormal EKG and the elevated troponin. You inform the patient he needs to be admitted to the hospital. He refuses. He states that he will call his doctor in the morning and wishes to go home. His family sits there and stares at you, seemingly offering no support for your idea. In fact, they say very little at all.

Consider these questions about the patient's condition and best course of treatment.

  • What is your next action?
  • How will you help the patient and family understand your assessment?

Patient follow-up: How to handle patient' wish to leave hospital against medical advice

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