The management of patients with acute coronary syndromes (ACS) is becoming more complicated. With the advent of new therapies and surgical techniques, the likelihood that patients will make a full recovery improves. Cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death for adults in the United States, and with continually increasing trends such as obesity and diabetes, will likely remain so in the future.

With the introduction of improved therapies, the numbers of patients dying after their first myocardial infarction continues to decline. Electrocardiogram (ECG) technology has improved, and further research has improved its sensitivity and specificity allowing for earlier, more consistent diagnosis of ACS. As a result, guidelines have been developed to assist nurses and clinicians in the management of patients with ACS.

Nurses are in a unique position to provide primary triage, recognize ACS based on the patient’s presentation and initial 12-lead ECG, and initiate an appropriate response. Key elements of 12-lead ECG interpretation and their application to established guidelines are essential skills for nurses working in clinical arenas frequented by patients with ACS.

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