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Prevalence and natural course of ectopic atrial tachycardia

A.-M. Poutiainen, M. J. Koistinen, K.E. J. Airaksinen, E.K. Hartikainen, R.V.J. Kettunen, J.E. Karjalainen, H.V. Huikuri
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1053/euhj.1998.1313 694-700 First published online: 1 May 1999



The purpose of this study was to calculate the prevalence of ectopic atrial tachycardia in a population of young asymptomatic males and to assess its natural course both in asymptomatic subjects and in symptomatic hospital patients.

Methods and Results

12-lead electrocardiograms (ECG) of 3554 consecutive males applying for a pilot’s licence were analysed. ECGs of symptomatic arrhythmia patients at two university hospitals were also analysed. A repeat ECG was taken in cases of ectopic atrial tachycardia to assess the natural course of this arrhythmia. Twelve out of 3554 asymptomatic subjects (prevalence 0·34%) and 17 out of 3700 symptomatic arrhythmia patients (prevalence 0·46%) had ECG evidence of ectopic atrial tachycardia. A repeat ECG was obtained after a mean follow-up of 8±3 years in asymptomatic subjects and 7±3 years in symptomatic patients. After the follow-up, seven (26%) out of 27 patients were still in a similar ectopic atrial rhythm, 10 (37%) showed a change in P wave morphology and 10 (37%) were in sinus rhythm. Heart rate was significantly slower (mean rate 81±19 vs 109±17 beats.min−1) in the repeat ECGs.


Asymptomatic ectopic atrial tachycardia is not an uncommon finding in a population of young males. The majority of patients show slowing of heart rate in the course of time, either with restoration of sinus rhythm or with a change in P wave morphology, suggesting that the ectopic foci undergo gradual degeneration with time.

  • Ectopic atrial tachycardia
  • prevalence
  • natural course


  • Jalife, JZipes, D

  • f1 Correspondence: Aino-Maija Poutiainen, Oulu University Hospital, Department of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Kajaanintie 50, 90220 Oulu, Finland.


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