Ectopic Complexes

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Author(s) J.S.S.G. de Jong
Moderator J.S.S.G. de jong
some notes about authorship

The pacemakercells in the sinusnode are not the only cells in the heart that can depolarize spontaneously. Actually all cardiomyoctyes have this capacity. The only reason why the sinusnode 'rules' is that it is the fastest pacemaker of the heart. From sinusnode to ventricle all healthy cardiomyocytes can function as a ectopic pacemaker. Ectopic pacemaker activity can originate from the atria (60-80 bpm), AV-node (40-60 bpm) and the ventricles (20-40 bpm). So, as the sinus rate drops (e.g. during atrial infarction), other cells can take over. The configuration of ectopic beats or extrasystoles, as seen on the ECG, reveals its origin, whether they are atrial, nodal or ventrical.

Ectopic pacemakers

Heart cells with pacemaker activity
Celltype Frequency QRS width (*)
SA node (not ectopic) 60-100 bpm narrow
Atrial 55-60 bpm narrow
AV Nodal ectopic pacemaker 45-50 bpm narrow
His bundle 40-45 bpm narrow
Bundle branch 40-45 bpm narrow or wide
Purkinje cells 35-40 bpm wide
Myocardial cells 30-35 bpm wide

(*) QRS width can only be narrow if the conduction system downstream is normal (i.e. no bundle branch block)