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Background: Thyrotoxic periodic paralysis (TPP) commonly precedes the overt symptoms and signs of hyperthyroidism and may be misdiagnosed as other causes of paralysis (non-TPP). Because the cardiovascular system is very sensitive to elevation of thyroid hormone, we hypothesize that electrocardiographic manifestations may aid in early diagnosis of TPP.

Methods: We retrospectively identified 54 patients who presented to the emergency department (ED) with hypokalemic paralysis during a 3.5-year period. Thirty-one patients had TPP and 23 patients had non-TPP, including sporadic periodic paralysis, distal renal tubular acidosis, diuretic use, licorice intoxication, primary hyperaldosteronism, and Bartter-like syndrome. Electrocardiograms during attacks were analyzed for rate, rhythm, conduction, PR interval, QRS voltage, ST segment, QT interval, U waves, and T waves.

Results: There were no significant differences in age, sex distribution, and plasma K concentration between the TPP and non-TPP groups. Plasma phosphate was significantly lower in TPP than non-TPP. Heart rate, PR interval, and QRS voltage were significantly higher in TPP than non-TPP. Forty-five percent of TPP patients had first-degree atrioventricular block compared with 13% in the non-TPP group. There were no significant differences in QT shortening, ST depression, U wave appearance, or T wave flattening between the 2 groups.

Conclusion: Relatively rapid heart rate, high QRS voltage, and first-degree AV block are important clues suggesting TPP in patients who present with hypokalemia and paralysis.

Copyright (C) 2003 by the Southern Society for Clinical Investigation. Unauthorized reproduction of this article is prohibited.