Lead aVR is often “neglected” because of its non-adjacent location to other EKG leads (Fig 1) and poor awareness of its potential utility in detecting myocardial ischemia.
In acute coronary syndrome (ACS), ST-elevation (STE) in aVR (≥1mm) with diffuse ST depression in other leads (Fig 2) is usually a sign of severe left main coronary artery (LMCA), proximal left anterior descending (LAD), or 3-vessel coronary disease, and is associated with poor prognosis1-3. In some patients with LMCA thrombosis, the EKG changes may be non-specific but STE in aVR should still raise suspicion for ischemia1. Possible mechanisms for STE in aVR include diffuse anterolateral subendocardial ischemia or transmural infarction of the basal portion of the heart.
The possibility of an anatomical variant of the Purkinje fibers leading to the absence of STE in the anterior leads in some patients with transmural anterior infarction is another reason to pay attention to aVR.
Fig 1. Standard EKG limb leads. Note that aVR is “in the fringes”.
Fig 2. 35 year old female with ACS due to LMCA spasm. Note STE in aVR with ST segment depression in leads V3-6, I, aVL, II, and aVF (Courtesy National Library of Medicine)
- Kossaify A. ST segment elevation in aVR: clinical syndrome in acute coronary syndrome. Clin Med Insights: Case Reports 2013:6.
- Kireyev D, Arkhipov MV, Zador ST. Clinical utility of aVR-the neglected electrocardiographic lead. Ann Noninvasive Electrocardiol 2010;15:175-180.
- Wong –CK, Gao W, Stewart RAH, et al. aVR ST elevation: an important but neglected sign in ST elevation acute myocardial infarction. Eur Heart J 2010;31:1845-1853.
- De Winter RJ, Verouden NJ, Wellens HJ, et al. A new ECG sign of proximal LAD occlusion. N Engl J Med 2008;359:2071-3.