Raised Intracranial Pressure

Electrocardiographic Abnormalities

Raised ICP is associated with certain characteristic ECG changes:

Other possible ECG changes that may be seen:

  • ST segment elevation / depression — this may mimic myocardial ischaemia or pericarditis.
  • Increased U wave amplitude.
  • Other rhythm disturbances: sinus tachycardia, junctional rhythms, premature ventricular contractions, atrial fibrillation.

In some cases, these ECG abnormalities may be associated with echocardiographic evidence of regional ventricular wall motion abnormality (so-called “neurogenic stunned myocardium”). 


ECG changes due to raised ICP are most commonly seen with massive intracranial haemorrhage:

  • Subarachnoid haemorrhage
  • Intraparenchymal haemorrhage (haemorrhagic stroke)

They may also be seen with:

  • Massive ischaemic stroke causing cerebral oedema (e.g. MCA occlusion)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Cerebral metastases (rarely)

In one case series, the ECG pattern of cerebral T-waves with prolonged QT interval was seen in 72% of patients with SAH and 57% of patients with intraparenchymal haemorrhage. 


ECG Examples

Example 1 – SAH

  • Widespread, giant T-wave inversions (“cerebral T waves”) secondary to subarachnoid haemorrhage.
  • The QT interval is also grossly prolonged (600 ms).


Example 2 – SAH

  • Another example of cerebral T-waves with marked QT prolongation secondary to subarachnoid haemorrhage.


Example 3 – SAH

  • Widespread T-wave inversions with slight ST depression secondary to subarachnoid haemorrhage.
  • The QT interval is prolonged (greater than half the R-R interval).
  • This ECG pattern could easily be mistaken for myocardial ischaemia as the T-wave morphology is very similar, although obviously the clinical picture would be very different (coma versus chest pain).


Example 4 – Traumatic Brain Injury

  • This ECG was taken from a previously healthy 18-year old girl with severe traumatic brain injury and massively raised intracranial pressure (30-40 mmHg).
  • There is widespread ST elevation with a pericarditis-like morphology and no reciprocal change (except in aVR and V1).
  • She had no cardiac injury / abnormality to explain the ST elevation.
  • The ST segments normalised as the intracranial pressure came under control (following treatment with thiopentone and hypertonic saline).


Amal Mattu presents a case of intracranial haemorrhage with characteristic ECG findings.


Further Reading

Author Credits


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