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 Table of Contents  
Year : 2016  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 94-98

Fragmented QRS: A simple electrocardiographic prognostic marker in cardiovascular disease

Department of Cardiology, Mittal Hospital and Research Centre, Pushkar Road, Ajmer, Rajasthan, India

Date of Web Publication26-Sep-2016

Correspondence Address:
Sita Ram Mittal
XI/101, Brahmpuri, Ajmer - 305 001, Rajasthan
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2250-3528.191100

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Fragmented QRS is defined as the presence of R' wave or notching of R or S wave in the presence of narrow QRS. It indicates heterogeneous depolarization of the ventricular myocardium that can occur due to ischemia, fibrosis, or scar. It may also be a marker of coronary microvascular dysfunction. In the context of epicardial coronary artery disease, it is associated with multivessel disease and greater incidence of cardiac events. It has been shown to be an indicator of higher incidence of arrhythmias and sudden death in arrhythmic right ventricular dysplasia, Brugada syndrome, and acquired long QT syndrome. Its regression following cardiac resynchronization therapy suggests electrical reverse remodeling. It has also been shown to be a marker of myocardial involvement in congenital heart diseases and is helpful in diagnosing subclinical cardiac involvement in various systemic diseases.

Keywords: Arrhythmias, autoimmune disorders, coronary artery disease, congenital heart disease, metabolic syndrome, sarcoidosis

How to cite this article:
Mittal SR. Fragmented QRS: A simple electrocardiographic prognostic marker in cardiovascular disease. J Clin Prev Cardiol 2016;5:94-8

How to cite this URL:
Mittal SR. Fragmented QRS: A simple electrocardiographic prognostic marker in cardiovascular disease. J Clin Prev Cardiol [serial online] 2016 [cited 2023 Jun 8];5:94-8. Available from: https://www.jcpconline.org/text.asp?2016/5/3/94/191100

  Introduction Top

Evaluation of prognosis of a patient with cardiovascular disease frequently requires invasive evaluation. Recently, it has been shown that the presence of fragmented QRS (fQRS) on a routine twelve-lead surface electrocardiogram (ECG) can give a reasonable impression about the severity of cardiac involvement in various cardiac and systemic diseases. The present article aims to review the latest information in this field.

  Definition Top

fQRS is defined as the presence of an additional R wave (R') or notching of R or S wave or the presence of more than one R' in two contiguous leads corresponding to a major coronary artery. [1] It is necessary that QRS should be narrow (<80 ms) and must not fit into any classical bundle branch block pattern. Representative tracings are shown in [Figure 1] [Figure 2] [Figure 3]. In the presence of a wide complex QRS (>120 ms), more than two notches in the R or S wave in two or more contiguous leads are necessary to qualify as fQRS. [1] Contiguous leads mean anterior leads (V 1 -V 5 ), lateral leads (I, aVL, and V 6 ), or inferior leads (II, III, and aVF).
Figure 1: Electrocardiogram showing fragmented QRS in leads V4 to V6. Lead I, aVL, and V2 also show Q-waves

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Figure 2: Electrocardiogram showing fragmented QRS in leads V2 and V4

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Figure 3: Electrocardiogram showing fragmented QRS in leads III and aVF

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  Pathogenesis Top

fQRS suggests heterogeneous depolarization of ventricular myocardium that can occur due to ischemia, fibrosis, or scar. [2] Channel dysfunction can be responsible for heterogeneous depolarization in some cases. fQRS can occur in primary cardiac pathologies or cardiac involvement in systemic diseases.

  Significance in Various Cardiac and Systemic Disorders Top

Coronary artery disease

Noninvasive diagnosis of coronary microvascular dysfunction is difficult, and no electrocardiographic sign is described to diagnose this entity. It has been observed that the frequency of fQRS is higher in patients with coronary slow flow [3] that in itself which is an angiographic marker of coronary microvascular dysfunction. Hence, fQRS can be useful in noninvasive diagnosis of coronary microvascular dysfunction. In the context of epicardial coronary artery disease, fQRS is associated with multivessel disease, decreased global circumferential strain, and greater incidence of clinical cardiac events. [4] In patients presenting with acute coronary syndrome, development of fQRS within 48 h of presentation strongly supports the possibility of myocardial necrosis over mere unstable angina. [5] In non-ST elevation myocardial infarction, the presence of fQRS on admission is a powerful independent predictor of cardiovascular mortality. [6] In ST elevation myocardial infarction, the presence of fQRS is associated with the lower left ventricular ejection fraction, higher maximum troponin levels, lower ST segment resolution, more frequent proximal coronary artery lesions, and more frequent triple vessel disease. [7] The presence of fQRS is also associated with a higher frequency of thrombolytic failure. [8]

Nonischemic dilated cardiomyopathy and myocarditis

In nonischemic dilated cardiomyopathy, fQRS is associated with cardiac fibrosis and a significant intraventricular systolic dyssynchrony. [9] All-cause mortality and ventricular arrhythmias are more frequent in patients with fQRS. [10] Among patients with widened QRS complex, especially with the left bundle branch block, those with fQRS are more likely to show improvement with resynchronization therap [1] fQRS is highly prevalent in patients with Chagas' cardiomyopathy, but it is a poor predictor of benefit from implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) therapy. [11] J-waves and fQRS have been shown to be useful markers of myocardial damage in the hyperacute phase of takotsubo cardiomyopathy. [12] In patients with granulomatous systemic diseases (such as sarcoidosis) presenting with sustained monomorphic ventricular tachycardia and normal left ventricular ejection fraction, the presence of fQRS indicates myocardial involvement. In addition, the ECG leads showing fQRS correspond to the involved segment of myocardium. [13]

Left ventricular hypertrophy

In asymptomatic patients with hypertension, the presence of fQRS correlates with an increased arterial stiffness. [14] Although the significance of fQRS for identifying the left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) in patients with hypertension is limited, this electrocardiographic finding is associated with a higher risk of worse LVH. [15] The presence of fQRS is also associated with more severe diastolic dysfunction in patients with hypertension. [16] This is attributed to an increased myocardial collagen deposit and fibrosis in these patients. [17]

The presence of fQRS independently correlates with the severity of aortic stenosis (AS). [18] It is a better indicator of myocardial fibrosis in AS than traditional electrocardiographic criteria of LVH (except strain pattern) and echocardiographic LVH. [18]

In hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, fQRS is a marker of myocardial fibrosis, [19] and its sensitivity and diagnostic accuracy for detecting myocardial fibrosis are substantially higher than the pathological Q-waves. [19] fQRS is also associated with a higher rate of hospitalization for heart failure [20] and a higher risk of sudden death [21] in these patients.

Arrhythmias and sudden death

fQRS is associated with a frequency of premature ventricular contractions in patients without overt structural heart disease [22] and predicts the episodes of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation on Holter monitoring. [23] In patients with ischemic and nonischemic cardiomyopathy, fQRS is a good predictor of future arrhythmic events. [24]

Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia is a genetically determined structural heart disease characterized by fibro-fatty replacement of the right ventricular myocardium. The presence of fQRS has a diagnostic value in this disease. Further, the number of ECG leads with fQRS correlates with the severity of disease including the presence of the left ventricular involvement and predicts clinical arrhythmic events. [25]

In Brugada syndrome, another genetically determined channelopathy with structurally normal heart, presence of >4 spikes in one or >8 spikes in all leads V 1, V 2, and V 3 is taken as diagnostic of fQRS. [26] The presence of fQRS can predict patients with spontaneous type 1 ECG, occurrence of ventricular fibrillation and syncope, and thus predicts the benefit from prophylactic ICD implantation. [27]

fQRS is also helpful in identifying patients of acquired long QT syndrome at risk of torsade de pointes and syncope. [28]

Yang et al. [29] observed that regression of fQRS following cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) correlated with an improvement in the left ventricular ejection fraction or the New York Heart Association functional class and an improvement in survival without heart failure hospitalization. These authors concluded that regression of fQRS could be a marker of electric reverse remodeling following CRT. Celikyurt et al. [30] have also observed that resolution of fQRS is associated with response to CRT.

QRS fragmentation, especially in the lateral precordial leads (leads I, aVL, and V 6 ) or in two or more anatomic territories, is an independent risk marker of sudden death in the general population. [31]

Congenital heart disease

fQRS in adults with repaired tetralogy of Fallot is associated with the right ventricular fibrosis. [32] QRS duration and fractionation are markers of the right ventricular dysfunction and atrialization in patients with Ebstein's anomaly. [33] Fractioned QRS also has a prognostic significance in patients with the left ventricular noncompaction cardiomyopathy. [34]

Cardiac involvement in other disorders

fQRS suggests cardiac involvement in patients with sarcoidosis, [35] systemic lupus erythematosus, [36] rheumatoid arthritis, [37] systemic sclerosis, [38] Familial Mediterranean fever, [39] iron overload in beta-thalassemia major, [40] obstructive sleep apnea, [41] and metabolic syndrome. [42] However, in view of the small number of patients with these disease conditions in most series, the exact clinical significance of fQRS cannot be determined.

  Conclusion Top

The presence of fQRS on conventional ECG is helpful in suspecting cardiac involvement in various systemic disorders. In cardiac diseases, it correlates with subclinical left ventricular dysfunction or scarring and predicts a higher incidence of ventricular arrhythmias. However, this ECG finding needs to be interpreted in total clinical context. Its presence in anterior precordial leads (V 1 to V 5 ) and lateral leads (I, aVL, and V 6 ) is more specific than its presence only in the inferior leads. Accurate recording needs optimal low pass filter setting in the ECG machine. It has a low specificity but higher sensitivity and negative predictive value compared with Q-wave for a myocardial scar. Sensitivity is increased when the two signs are combined.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

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