BACKGROUND: Epicardial pacing wires are routinely used for the diagnosis and treatment of bradyarrhythmias after cardiac surgery. The frequency of arrhythmias during removal of the wires is unknown, and methods of removal vary among institutions. OBJECTIVES: To describe the frequency of ventricular arrhythmias during removal of epicardial pacing wires from the right ventricle, to determine variables that are predictive of ventricular arrhythmias during wire removal, and to describe patients' perceptions of wire removal. METHODS: A convenience sample of 145 patients who had undergone cardiac surgery was studied during the course of 1 year. Electrocardiographic and vital signs were recorded throughout wire removal. Patients' records were reviewed for variables that could predict the occurrence of arrhythmias during wire removal: laboratory values, history of arrhythmias, medications, medical history, postoperative course, and pain reported by the patient. RESULTS: Sixty-six percent of patients had one premature ventricular contraction or more while the ventricular wires were being removed. Seven percent of patients had nonsustained ventricular tachycardia during wire removal. Patients who had repeat cardiac surgery had significantly more nonsustained ventricular tachycardia than did all other patients (P < .01). Only a history of heart failure (P < .02) was a significant predictor of premature ventricular contractions during wire removal. On a scale of 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain), the mean rating of pain intensity reported by patients was 2.39 (SD = 2.77). CONCLUSION: Patients may be at risk for ventricular arrhythmias during removal of epicardial pacing wires. Findings support the need for electrocardiographic monitoring while pacing wires are being removed.

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