Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology

Hypocapnia reduces the T wave of the electrocardiogram in normal human subjects

J. J. Rutherford, T. H. Clutton-Brock, M. J. Parkes


During voluntary hyperventilation in unanesthetized humans, hypocapnia causes coronary vasoconstriction and decreased oxygen (O2) supply and availability to the heart. This can induce local epicardial coronary artery spasm in susceptible patients. Its diagnostic potential for detection of early heart disease is unclear. This is because such hypocapnia produces an inconsistent and irreproducible effect on electrocardiogram (ECG) in healthy subjects. To resolve this inconsistency, we have applied two new experimental techniques in normal, healthy subjects to measure the effects of hypocapnia on their ECG: mechanical hyperventilation and averaging of multiple ECG cycles. In 15 normal subjects, we show that hypocapnia (20 ± 1 mmHg) significantly reduced mean T wave amplitude by 0.1 ± 0.0 mV. Hypocapnia also increased mean heart rate by 4 beats/min without significantly altering blood pressure, ionized calcium or potassium levels, or the R wave or other features of the ECG. We therefore provide the first unequivocal demonstration that hypocapnia does consistently reduce T wave amplitude in normal, healthy subjects.

  • coronary circulation
  • carbon dioxide
  • angina
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