Does obesity have an effect on the ECG in children?


Kiess A, Körner A, Dähnert I, Vogel M, Markel F, Gebauer RA, Kiess W, Paech C.J Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2020 May 26;33(5):585-589. doi: 10.1515/jpem-2019-0539.PMID: 32229672 Review.



This review summarizes current data on influences of childhood obesity on the 12-lead electrocardiogram (ECG). Studies on obese adults showed a higher risk of cardiovascular complications and also, partly pathological, ECG alterations. Data on ECG alterations in obese children is rare. In current studies, no pathological findings were found. All alterations, which mimic the later pathological phenomena in obese adults, were within normal ranges. Studies reported significantly longer P-wave time and P-wave dispersion (Pd) in obese children [Üner A, Doğan M, Epcacan Z, Epçaçan S. The effect of childhood obesity on cardiac functions. J Pediatr Endocr Met 2014;27:261-71.], no correlation of heart rate, P-wave, or QT dispersions (QTd) [Akyüz A, Alpsoy S, Akkoyun DC, Nalbantoǧlu B, Tülübaș F, et al. Effect of overweight on P-wave and QT dispersions in childhood. Turk Kardiyol Dern Ars 2013;41:515-21.], significantly higher QTd in obese children [Yildirim S, Binnetoglu FK, Battal F, Aylanc H, Nazan Kaymaz N, et al. Relation between QT variables and left ventricular geometry in athletes and obese children. Acta Med Port 2016;29:95-100.], no significant association between obesity and QTc interval (QTc), but longer PR intervals, wider QRS duration and left axis shifting of frontal P-wave, QRS and T-wave axes [Sun G, Li Y, Zho X, Guuo X, Zhang X, et al. Association between obesity and ECG variables in children and adolescents: a cross-sectional study. Exp Ther Med 2013;6:1455-62.], significant prolongation of QTc, T peak-to-end, and QTd in the obese children [Paech C, Liebold A, Gebauer RA, Wagner F, Vogel M, et al. Relative QT interval prolongation and electrical inhomogeneity of cardiac repolarization in childhood obesity. Prog Pediatr Cardiol 2017;47:64-7.], slight shift to the left in the QRS axis (with no changes in the P axis), increased amplitudes of the left-sided leads in obese children, and no correlation of the heart rate with the weight [Paech C, Anhalt M, Gebauer RA, Wagner F, Vogel M, et al. New normal limits for pediatric ECG in childhood obesity? Influence of childhood obesity on the ECG. Prog Pediatr Cardiol 2018;48:119-23.]. Altogether, the study results are inconsistent. Clearly, pathological phenomena in the ECG of obese children were not reported: only preliminary stages like QTc prolongation within the norm were found. The pathological alterations seen in adult obese patients are not (yet) seen in childhood. The slight changes reported in childhood obesity are likely to manifest later and to develop into pathological phenomena in obese adults and, therefore, might increase the risk of cardiovascular events like arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death in adulthood.