Author + information
- Received April 18, 1997
- Revision received September 23, 1997
- Accepted October 13, 1997
- Published online February 1, 1998.
- Paolo Verdecchia MDA,* (, )
- Giuseppe Schillaci MDB,
- Claudia Borgioni MDA,
- Antonella Ciucci MDA,
- Roberto Gattobigio MDA,
- Ivano Zampi MDA and
- Carlo Porcellati MDA
- ↵*Dr. Paolo Verdecchia, Ospedale “R. Silvestrini,” Area Omogenea di Cardiologia e Medicina, 06156 Perugia PG, Italy.
Objectives. We tested the prognostic value of a new electrocardiographic (ECG) method (Perugia score) for diagnosis of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) in essential hypertension and compared it with five standard methods (Cornell voltage, Framingham criterion, Romhilt-Estes point score, left ventricular strain, Sokolow-Lyon voltage).
Background. Several standard ECG methods for assessment of LVH are used in the clinical setting, but a comparative prognostic assessment is lacking.
Methods. A total of 1,717 white hypertensive subjects (mean age 52 years; 51% men) were prospectively followed up for up to 10 years (mean 3.3).
Results. At entry, the prevalence of LVH was 17.8% (Perugia score), 9.1% (Cornell), 3.9% (Framingham), 5.2% (Romhilt-Estes), 6.4% (strain) and 13.1% (Sokolow-Lyon). During follow-up there were 159 major cardiovascular morbid events (33 fatal). The event rate was higher in the subjects with than in those without LVH (all p < 0.001) according to all methods except the Sokolow-Lyon method. By multivariate analysis, an independent association between LVH and cardiovascular disease risk was maintained by the Perugia score (hazard ratio [HR] 2.04, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.5 to 2.8) and the Framingham (HR 1.91, 95% CI 1.1 to 3.2), Romhilt-Estes (HR 2.63, 95% CI 1.7 to 4.1) and strain methods (HR 2.11, 95% CI 1.4 to 3.2). The Perugia score showed the highest population-attributable risk for cardiovascular events, accounting for 15.6% of all cases, whereas the Framingham, Romhilt-Estes and strain methods accounted for 3.0%, 7.4% and 6.8% of all events, respectively. LVH diagnosed by the Perugia score was also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular mortality (HR 4.21, 95% CI 2.1 to 8.7), with a population-attributable risk of 37.0%.
Conclusions. The Perugia score carried the highest population-attributable risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality compared with classic methods for detection of LVH. Traditional interpretation of standard electrocardiography maintains an important role for cardiovascular risk stratification in essential hypertension.
Because of its established clinical value, broad availability and low cost [1–3], standard electrocardiography is recommended as the routine test for detection of left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH) in patients with essential hypertension . LVH detected with standard electrocardiography is a strong and independent predictor of future cardiovascular complications, including angina pectoris, myocardial infarction, stroke, congestive heart failure and sudden cardiac death [5–9].
Several electrocardiographic (ECG) methods for detection of LVH are used in the clinical setting. Differences have been reported among these criteria in terms of diagnostic performance [10, 11]. Although it is reasonable to speculate that criteria with different diagnostic accuracy might differ in terms of prediction of cardiovascular risk, a comparative assessment of the prognostic significance of different ECG criteria of LVH is still lacking.
Consequently, we examined data from the Progetto Ipertensione Umbria Monitoraggio Ambulatoriale (PIUMA) study to compare the prognostic value of five established ECG diagnostic criteria of LVH [2, 3, 12–14]with that of a cumulative score recently developed in our laboratory . The new method, which requires positivity of at least one of the following three criteria: sum of the amplitudes of the S wave on lead V3and the R wave on lead aVL (SV3+ RaVL) >2.4 mV (men) or >2.0 mV (women), left ventricular strain or a Romhilt-Estes score of five or more points, yielded values of sensitivity, specificity and accuracy of 34%, 93% and 73%, respectively, in subjects with uncomplicated essential hypertension .
1.1 PIUMA Study
The PIUMA study is a prospective registry of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in adult white subjects with essential hypertension that was started in June 1986 in three participating hospitals (Perugia, Città della Pieve, Castiglione del Lago) in Umbria, Central Italy. The study design and selection criteria have been reported previously [15–17].
All patients were referred to our centers for baseline evaluation by a group of general practitioners. The initial evaluation included a detailed clinical examination, 12-lead ECG, 24-h off-therapy ambulatory BP monitoring, screening laboratory tests, funduscopic examination and, from October 1987, an M-mode and Doppler echocardiographic study according to a standardized protocol . The present analysis involves 1,784 subjects consecutively enrolled in the PIUMA registry up to June 1995, including those investigated in a previous study that tested the accuracy of several ECG criteria for LVH, with echocardiographic LV mass as reference .
All patients had clinical systolic BP ≥140 mm Hg or diastolic BP ≥90 mm Hg, or both, on at least three visits at 1-week intervals and fulfilled the following inclusion criteria: no previous antihypertensive treatment (68%) or treatment withdrawn for at least 4 weeks; no clinical or laboratory evidence of heart failure, valvular defects, secondary causes of hypertension or other concomitant important disease; at least one valid BP measurement/hour over 24 h. Forty-eight subjects (2.7%) were excluded from the present study because of ECG exclusion criteria (see Standard electrocardiography).
Clinical BP was measured by a physician with a mercury sphygmomanometer in the outpatient clinic in a quiet and relaxed environment, with the subject seated for at least 10 min. The average of three measurements was used for the analysis. Ambulatory BP was recorded using an oscillometric device (SpaceLabs 5200, 90202 and 90207, SpaceLabs) set to take a reading every 15 min for 24 h. Daytime and nighttime periods were defined as the periods of wakefulness and sleep on the basis of patient diaries. Reading, editing and analysis of data were done as previously described . Subjects were determined to have white-coat hypertension if their daytime systolic/diastolic BP was <130/80 mm Hg; otherwise, they were diagnosed as having sustained hypertension [18, 19].
1.3 Standard Electrocardiography
Standard 12-lead ECGs were recorded in all subjects at 25 mm/s and 1-mV/cm calibration. Tracings were coded and interpreted by two investigators (G.S., P.V.) without knowledge of other patient data. Interobserver differences, which occurred <5% of readings, were resolved by consensus. Subjects with complete bundle branch block, previous myocardial infarction, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome and atrial fibrillation were excluded from the present study. No subject was being treated with digitalis. We tested the following ECG criteria for LVH: Sokolow-Lyon voltage(sum of the amplitudes of the S wave on lead V1and the R wave on lead V5or V6≥3.5 mV) ; Romhilt-Estes point score(both partition values of ≥5 points and ≥4 points were examined) ; gender-specific Cornell voltage(SV3+ RaVL>2.8 mV in men and >2.0 mV in women) ; Framingham criterion(coexistence of a definite strain pattern and at least one of the following voltage criteria: sum of the amplitudes of the R wave on lead I and the S wave on lead III ≥2.5 mV, sum of the amplitudes of the S wave on lead V1or V2and the R wave on lead V5or V6≥3.5 mV, the S wave on the right precordial lead ≥2.5 mV and the R wave on the left precordial lead ≥2.5 mV) ; left ventricular strain(≥0.1-mV ST segment depression with asymmetric T wave inversion on leads V2to V6and either lateral or inferior peripheral leads; minor ST-T wave abnormalities were coded as negative) . We also tested a simple cumulative score recently developed in our laboratory (Perugia score) that requires positivity of one or more of the following three criteria: SV3+ RaVL>2.4 mV (men) or >2.0 mV (women), left ventricular strain or a Romhilt-Estes score of five or more points . When compared with traditional criteria for ECG diagnosis of LVH, the Perugia score showed the highest sensitivity (34%) at the expense of a slight decrease in specificity (93%), whereas, for example, the Cornell voltage yielded a sensitivity of 16% and a specificity of 97% .
1.4 Follow-up Procedures
All subjects were followed up by their family doctors in cooperation with the outpatient clinic of the referring hospital and were treated with the aim of reducing clinical BP to <140/90 mm Hg using standard lifestyle and pharmacologic measures. Diuretic drugs, beta adrenergic blocking agents, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, calcium channel blockers and alpha-blockers, alone or in various combinations, were the antihypertensive drugs most frequently used. There were periodic contacts with family doctors and telephone interviews with patients to ascertain vital status and the occurrence of major cardiovascular complications. All interviews were conducted without knowledge of the patient’s clinical data. Many of the patients continued to be periodically referred to our institutions for BP control and other diagnostic procedures. A major effort was recently undertaken over ∼1 month to assess the vital status of all subjects. Nineteen subjects (1.1%) could not be contacted for follow-up or refused to provide information. These 19 subjects did not differ significantly in age and clinical characteristics from the 1,717 patients for whom complete follow-up data were obtained.
1.5 End Point Evaluation
Available hospital record forms and other source documents of patients who died or had a cardiovascular event were reviewed in conference by us, without knowledge of the results of ambulatory BP monitoring, ECG, echocardiography or the other procedures carried out at entry into the PIUMA study. Cardiovascular events included new-onset coronary artery disease (myocardial infarction or angina with concomitant ischemic ECG changes), stroke, transient cerebral ischemia, symptomatic aortoiliac occlusive disease verified at angiography, thrombotic occlusion of a retinal artery documented at angiography, congestive heart failure requiring hospitalization or renal failure requiring dialysis. The international standard criteria used to diagnose cardiovascular events in the PIUMA study have been described elsewhere [15–17].
1.6 Data Analysis
Results are reported as mean value ± SD. Standard descriptive and comparative statistical analyses were undertaken. We compared the two hypertensive groups (with and without LVH according to the various criteria) in terms of cardiovascular morbidity, expressed as the combined number of fatal plus nonfatal cardiovascular events over the follow-up period. Event rates are presented as the number of events/100 patient-years based on the ratio of the observed number of events to the total number of patient-years of exposure. For the subjects who experienced multiple nonfatal events, the analysis included only the first event. Survival curves were estimated using the Kaplan-Meier product-limit method and compared by the Mantel (log-rank) test . The effect of prognostic factors on survival was evaluated by stepwise Cox semiparametric regression models . We tested the following covariates in the Cox models: age (≤40 years, 41 to 60 years, ≥60 years); gender (women, men); diabetes (no, yes); clinical BP (grouped by Joint National Committee V class ); ambulatory BP (white-coat hypertension, sustained hypertension); serum cholesterol (mmol/liter), smoking habits (current smokers, previous smokers, never-smokers); body mass index (kg/m2); LVH at ECG (no, yes; each criterion was entered into the model separately); antihypertensive therapy at follow-up contact (lifestyle measures, drug treatment). Age was analyzed as a categoric variable because of an abrupt increase in risk after age 60, with consequent failure to pass the linearity test. Population-attributable risk is an estimate of the proportion of cardiovascular morbid events that can be attributed to a given risk marker, taking into account its prevalence and hazard ratio, and was defined as where prevalence is the number of patient-years of observation with a risk factor present divided by the total observation time . In two-tailed tests, p values <0.05 were considered statistically significant. BMDP Statistical Software, version 7, was used to perform the analysis. >
2.1 Clinical Characteristics
As shown in Table 1the prevalence of ECG LVH differed among the tested criteria, ranging from 3.9% (Framingham method) to 17.8% (Perugia score). The clinical characteristics of the study cohort are reported in Table 2. Patients with LVH detected by the Perugia score were older, had a longer duration of hypertension and a more frequent history of previous use of antihypertensive drugs compared with subjects without LVH. Clinical and 24-h systolic and diastolic BP values were higher in the subset with LVH (all p < 0.001).
During follow-up, 67% of patients with LVH were treated with antihypertensive drugs compared with 49% of patients without LVH (p < 0.001). The distribution of beta-blockers and diuretic drugs, alone or combined; calcium-channel blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, alone or combined; and that of different drug combinations did not differ between the two groups (LVH: 14%, 22% and 31%; no LVH: 10%, 20%, and 19%, respectively).
When LVH was defined according to the other tested criteria, patients with LVH were significantly older (with the exception of Sokolow-Lyon voltage, 51 versus 52 years, p = NS) and had a longer duration of hypertension and higher clinical and 24-h BP values than patients without LVH (all p < 0.01).
2.2 Cardiovascular Morbidity
Complete follow-up data were obtained for all 1,717 subjects, who contributed 5,606 patient-years of observation. During up to 10.2 years of follow-up (mean [±SD] 3.27 ± 2.2 years), there were 159 new cardiovascular morbid events (33 fatal, 126 nonfatal), and the event rate was 2.84/100 patient-years in the overall study group. There were 51 subjects with stroke (11 fatal), 28 with myocardial infarction (4 fatal), 13 with sudden cardiac death, 5 with cardiac death from other causes, 13 with transient cerebral ischemia, 23 with new-onset coronary artery disease, 8 with heart failure requiring hospital admission, 12 with new-onset aortoiliac occlusive disease, 2 with occlusion of the retinal artery and 4 with renal failure requiring dialysis.
When LVH was defined according to the Perugia score, the event rate was 5.83/100 patient-years in the group with and 2.19/100 patient-years in the group without LVH. Event-free survival curves differed between the two groups (p < 0.001, log-rank test) (Fig. 1). The unadjusted event rate was higher in subjects with than in those without LVH (all p < 0.001) according to all ECG criteria except the Sokolow-Lyon method (Table 3). However, ECG LVH detected by the Cornell voltage lost its prognostic significance in a multivariate Cox model after adjustment for the other significant covariates (adjusted hazard ratio [HR] 1.34, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.86 to 2.08). An excess risk for cardiovascular disease was associated with ECG LVH only by the Perugia score (HR 2.04, 95% CI 1.47 to 2.80); the Framingham criterion (HR 1.91, 95% CI 1.13 to 3.23); left ventricular strain (HR 2.11, 95% CI 1.40 to 3.20); and the Romhilt-Estes score, both with a cutoff of five or more points (HR ratio 2.63, 95% CI 1.69 to 4.10) and four or more points (HR 2.43, 95% CI 1.59 to 3.71). When these five ECG criteria for LVH were entered together into the Cox model, only the Perugia score (HR 1.66, 95% CI 1.12 to 2.47, p = 0.015) and the Romhilt-Estes score (HR 1.82, 95% CI 1.08 to 3.060, p = 0.03) yielded significance. Because of its higher prevalence, ECG LVH detected by the Perugia score carried the highest population-attributable risk for cardiovascular events, accounting for 15.6% of all cases. By comparison, ECG LVH detected by the Framingham and Romhilt-Estes criteria accounted for only 3.0% and 7.4% of all events, respectively. Table 4reports the other significant independent predictors of total cardiovascular morbid events. Age, previous cardiovascular morbid events, diabetes, cigarette smoking and clinical and ambulatory BP were additional independent predictors of cardiovascular morbidity. Gender, serum cholesterol, body mass index and antihypertensive therapy at the follow-up contact were tested but not entered into the model.
2.3 Cardiovascular Mortality
Cardiovascular mortality was higher in subjects with than in those without LVH (all p < 0.001) according to all ECG criteria except the Sokolow-Lyon criteria (Table 5). Fig. 2shows survival curves of subgroups with and without ECG LVH detected by the Perugia score (log-rank test, p < 0.001). Age, previous cardiovascular morbid events, diabetes and ECG LVH (detected with the Perugia method, the Romhilt-Estes method or left ventricular strain) were the only independent predictors of cardiovascular mortality in a Cox model (Table 6). When these three ECG criteria for LVH were entered together into the Cox model, only the Perugia score (HR 4.07, 95% CI 2.01 to 8.26, p = 0.0001) yielded significance. ECG LVH detected by the Perugia score carried the highest population-attributable risk for cardiovascular mortality, accounting for 37.0% of all fatal events (Table 5).
To our knowledge, the present study is the first comparative prognostic assessment of several traditional ECG methods for diagnosis of LVH in patients with essential hypertension. After adjustment for concomitant risk factors in a multivariate model, cardiovascular disease risk independently attributable to ECG LVH was considerably higher with the new method (Perugia score) than with other standard methods.
3.1 ECG LVH and Cardiovascular Risk
More than 25 years ago, the Framingham Heart Study [6, 7]showed that the risk of fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular morbid events was from threefold to eightfold higher in middle-aged persons with ECG LVH than in normal adults of similar age, and this finding remained significant after adjustment for coexistent risk factors. The adverse prognostic impact of ECG LVH has been confirmed in other investigations [8, 9]. The present study provides further evidence that ECG LVH is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality in patients with essential hypertension and extends previous findings by evaluating the prognostic contribution of different ECG criteria for LVH. We used multivariate proportional hazards modeling to determine the relative and attributable risks of LVH for cardiovascular morbidity.
One major limitation of electrocardiography is its low sensitivity for detection of LVH. Hence, many subjects with a significant increase in left ventricular mass may remain undiagnosed by electrocardiography. For example, the prevalence of ECG LVH detected by the Framingham method in the general population (voltage criteria plus concomitant “strain pattern”) was only 2% . Although the sensitivity of several ECG criteria for LVH may be acceptable, albeit low (from 58% for the Romhilt-Estes score to 41% for the Cornell voltage ), among patients with disparate cardiac disorders, the sensitivity of electrocardiography for detection of LVH consistently decreases in the general population or in unselected hypertensive patient groups. For example, the sensitivity of the gender-specific Cornell voltage criterion was only 10% in men and 22% in women in the Framingham Heart Study and 12% in men and 19% in women in the PIUMA study . One possible reason for these discrepancies may be that the sensitivity of electrocardiography increases with severity of LVH [11, 13], whereas, conversely, severe LVH is uncommon in the general population or in unselected hypertensive patient groups.
3.2 Different ECG Criteria for LVH
Cardiac electric events recorded at the skin surface may be attenuated by several extracardiac factors (body size, adipose tissue, lung tissue, pericardial fluid and epicardial fat). Consequently, the choice of progressively lower voltage partition values to increase sensitivity is invariably outweighed by a decrease in specificity. Several factors, such as age , gender [13, 24], obesity [13, 25, 26]and cigarette smoking [13, 27], have an adverse impact on the ECG sensitivity for LVH. Nevertheless, fixed voltage criteria continue to be widely used in clinical practice as inexpensive and easily available screening tools for LVH, although more sophisticated computer-assisted analyses can improve the accuracy of electrocardiography [28, 29]. As a consequence of these shortcomings, the relation between ECG voltages and left ventricular mass is weak [12, 30, 31]. Among the various QRS voltages, the Cornell voltage (SV3+ RaVL) showed the closest association with left ventricular mass [11, 30, 31], and its performance was superior to that of the Sokolow-Lyon voltage in a receiver operator characteristic curve analysis . The Perugia score incorporates a gender-specific Cornell voltage with a modified partition value (>2.4 mV in men, >2.0 mV in women) that was generated through the use of receiver operator characteristic curve analysis, together with a left ventricular strain pattern and a Romhilt-Estes score of five or more . Left ventricular strain has also been reported as a reliable sign of LVH in the absence of increased QRS voltage [2, 14]and showed a specificity of 98% for LVH in hypertensive subjects without overt coronary heart disease and not taking digoxin . The Romhilt-Estes score, which combines QRS voltage and voltage-independent signs (QRS duration, retardation of the deflection of the highest point of the ECG wave, left atrial enlargement, left-axis deviation and left ventricular strain), showed a specificity of 100% for LVH .
In the present investigation, LVH detected at electrocardiography by the Perugia score showed the highest attributable risk for cardiovascular disease compared with other standard criteria. These differences may be explained by the finding that LVH detected using the Perugia score showed the highest prevalence (17.8%) among the tested ECG criteria, in association with an age- and risk factor-adjusted relative risk for cardiovascular disease that was only marginally lower than both the Romhilt-Estes partitions and the Framingham and strain methods. Thus, compared with the other classic criteria, the Perugia score allowed diagnosis of LVH in a larger group of patients whose high risk of subsequent events was comparable to that of the minority of patients diagnosed using the more specific but less sensitive traditional methods. Because the Romhilt-Estes score and the Perugia score incorporate a left ventricular strain pattern in their definition, an underlying condition of myocardial ischemia, possibly reflected by a typical strain pattern, might contribute to explain their prognostic value beyond that directly attributable to increased left ventricular mass.
The mechanisms that link LVH to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality are unclear. In essential hypertension, left ventricular mass may be considered a marker that reflects and integrates the long-term detrimental effects of high BP and other cardiovascular risk factors. Increased left ventricular mass is associated with an increased risk for ventricular arrhythmias [32–34]and sudden cardiac death [35–37].
3.3 Strengths and Limitations of the Study
The PIUMA study provides an opportunity for elucidating the prognostic value of several risk markers in subjects with uncomplicated essential hypertension. In the present analysis, ambulatory BP was included among the tested covariates because there is evidence of its independent prognostic value [15, 19, 38–40], and clinical BP was scored by Joint National Committee V stage to incorporate both systolic and diastolic BP values for risk prediction. The possible influence of significant valvular defects on LVH was excluded by clinical examination and Doppler echocardiography.
A limitation of this study was that no more than 40% of subjects had regular clinical visits at follow-up, and thus we were unable to adjust for potentially relevant factors, including degree of BP control and changes in LVH over time. Moreover, our findings were obtained in a 100% white cohort and cannot be extended to other racial groups. Finally, we did not assess the prognostic impact of more sophisticated analyses of electrocardiography, such as the computer-assisted computation of the QRS time-voltage integral [29, 30]and the computerized or manual calculation of the 12-lead voltage-duration product , which have been shown to improve the accuracy of electrocardiography for identification of LVH [29–31, 41].
3.4 Clinical Implications
Electrocardiography is currently recommended as the first-line method for detection of LVH in patients with hypertension . The present study confirms that ECG diagnosis of LVH in these patients predicts a twofold to fourfold increase in age- and risk factor-adjusted cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Compared with traditional ECG methods, the Perugia score allowed detection of LVH in a large proportion of subjects (17.8%) and carried the highest attributable risk for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Taken together, these data suggest that traditional interpretation of the standard ECG maintains an important role for cardiovascular risk stratification in essential hypertension. The promising role of more sophisticated computer-assisted techniques for ECG analysis [29–31, 41]will require widescale testing and prognostic validation.
☆ This study was supported by grants from the Associazione Umbria Cuore e Ipertensione, Perugia, Italy.
- blood pressure
- confidence interval
- electrocardiogram, electrocardiographic
- hazard ratio
- left ventricular hypertrophy
- Progetto Ipertensione Umbria Monitoraggio Ambulatoriale (trial)
- Received April 18, 1997.
- Revision received September 23, 1997.
- Accepted October 13, 1997.
- The American College of Cardiology
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- Perloff D
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