Do breast implants skew the results from an electrocardiogram (ECG) reading leading to a false diagnosis of a heart attack? Maybe. Breast implants are known to blur the image of the heart from another diagnostic test, an echocardiography.
ECG Versus Echocardiogram
An ECG measures a person’s heartbeat - its rhythm - because an abnormal rhythm would imply heart disease. This test diagnoses the cause of chest pain in an emergency situation. On the other hand, an echocardiogram involves ultrasound technology to create a visual image of the heart muscle: blood flow, structure, size, shape, heart valve function. This test diagnoses blood clots, infections, and previous heart attacks. An ECG is usually done first, followed by an echocardiogram if there is any arrhythmia detected.
"Doctors could mistakenly conclude that a patient with breast implants has a manifestation of coronary artery disease if they believe in the false ECG findings,” explained lead author Dr. Sok-Sithikun Bun. “One possible explanation is that implants may be a barrier that disturbs transmission of the electrical activity from the heart to the lead."
From Princess Grace Hospital in Monaco, lead author Dr. Sok-Sithikun Bun and a research team conducted a study with 48 women, 28 with breast implants and 20 without breast implants. None of the study participants had any known structural heart disease. After each participant received an ECG, analysts who were unaware of the patient’s status looked at the results.
One of two electrophysiologists expressed that one ECG (five percent) of the control group had an abnormal ECG, while the second ECG didn’t see anything wrong with the ECG. On the other hand, the electrophysiologists saw 38 percent and 57 percent abnormal ECGs from the group with breast implants.
"When a patient comes to the emergency department with chest pain an ECG is performed to see if they are having a heart attack," Bun said. "Doctors should be aware that ECG interpretation can be misleading in patients with breast implants. In case of any doubts regarding the diagnosis, blood tests need to be performed depending on the symptoms."
According to Pacific Heights Plastic Surgery, “breast augmentation has been the [number one] cosmetic procedure for over a decade.” “It may be wise to have an ECG before a breast implant operation. The ECG can be kept on file and used for comparison if the patient ever needs another ECG,” Bun said.