Interpretation of the neonatal electrocardiogram (ECG) is challenging due to the profound changes of the cardiovascular system in this period. We aimed to investigate the impact of gestational age (GA) on the neonatal ECG and create GA-specific reference values.
The Copenhagen Baby Heart Study is a prospective general population study that offered cardiac evaluation of neonates. ECGs and echocardiograms were obtained and systematically analyzed. GA, weight, height, and other baseline variables were registered.
We included 16 462 neonates (52% boys) with normal echocardiograms. The median postnatal age was 11 days (range 0 to 30), and the median GA was 281 days (range 238 to 301). Analyzing the ECG parameters as a function of GA, we found an effect of GA on almost all investigated ECG parameters. The largest percentual effect of GA was on heart rate (HR; 147 vs 139 beats per minute), the QRS axis (103° vs 116°), and maximum R-wave amplitude in V1 (R-V1; 0.97 vs 1.19 mV) for GA ≤35 vs ≥42 weeks, respectively. Boys had longer PR and QRS intervals and a more right-shifted QRS axis within multiple GA intervals (all P < .01). The effect of GA generally persisted after multifactorial adjustment.
GA was associated with significant differences in multiple neonatal ECG parameters. The association generally persisted after multifactorial adjustment, indicating a direct effect of GA on the developing neonatal cardiac conduction system. For HR, the QRS axis, and R-V1, the use of GA-specific reference values may optimize clinical handling of neonates.