Posts Tagged ‘apical impulse’

Heart is one of the unique organs , that a physician can touch and feel before diagnosing a disease .The fact that ,  the heart is located superficially within the thoracic cavity makes tactile examination possible . The current generation cardiologists should realise cardiac palpation was a huge scientific specialty by itself centuries ago . Apical impulse demonstration  in class rooms  would go on for hours together in the days of Leannc and Dressler .

It is an irony , when we are able to see and feel many areas of the heart in the direct vision ( RV parasternal impulse, pulmonary arterial pulsation, contractility of LV ) we got addicted to imaging modalities now.

This article tries to extrapolate the  morphology of  apical impulse  with that of ehocardiographic LV function . A normal apical impulse is a very subtle impulse often absent in a third of population.Some times it is called tapping impulse .The  two common abnormalities  of apical  impulse are hyperdynamic and heaving .

Read the link for normal apical impulse

A hyperdynamic apical impulse

The  hyperdynamic apical impulse is diffuse (Occupying at least two rib spaces >  3Sqcms) and very active  with brisk motions visible to naked eye .This implies the leftventricle is dilated significantly and the wall is not much hypertrophied. This is eccentric LV enlargement . It also tells us the LV function is well-preserved as the term hyperdynamic infers very active LV .It is obvious , a dysfunctional LV can not be hyperactive. A hyperdynamic LV apex in a patients with AR or MR indicates they will do well after surgery for the simple reason their LV function is preserved. In the same logic a patient with hyperdynamic apex often complaints of palpitation as the apex hits the chestwall . Which is a good sign with reference to LV function .

Note :A patient with heaving apex rarely complaints of palpitation.

Hyperdynamism occur in systole or diastole ?

Logic would say apical impulse would be palpable only in  systole .But in a hyperdynamic LV diastolic phase is also palpable (A palpable S3 is common associate of hyperdynamic apex)

Heaving apical impulse

The term heaving apex by definition indicate there is a brief localized sustained LV apex lasting at least 50% of systole.

  •  Aortic stenosis with normal LV function
  • Any dysfunctional and dilated LV which increases the after load

The sustained lift may disappear with very severe LV dysfunction , apical impulse is barely perceptible in failing hearts . A sustained LV apex suggest reduced dp/dt of  LV contractility .

Relationship between apical impulse character and LVH ?

Hyperdynamic LV apex is rare to be associated with LVH .Except probably in HOCM where the LV systole is interrupted very early in the ejection phase.

Heaving apex can be a marker of LVH .But, the onset of LV dysfunction can confound this finding.

Can a hyperdynamic and heaving characters occur together in apical impulse?

We have been taught cardiology with a black and white learning concept but unfortunately science more often exists in shades of grey An apical impulse can indeed have characters of both . A diffuse apical impulse with a heaving nature is common in regurgitating lesions with the onset of LV dysfunction Such situation can occur in LV apical aneurysm

Final message

Looking for apical impulse in current cardiology practice  may be considered as  the most foolish job  a physician can indulge !

Ask the secretary to record the history ,  take an ECG, do an Echo  , send both deserving (and of course  many undeserving patients too !)  to cath lab at the earliest  . . . This is the  modern-day cardiology mantra !

This article , does not vouch  for the accuracy of   what  some may consider as  a  “medieval clinical sign” . But , it  confers the patient  a better rapport  strightaway   as  the physician  puts  his or her hand on the patients heart  . Some  call this  as a healing touch ! It work  wonders in many !

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Examinations in  clinical cardiology

It is a brief early systolic outward thrust , followed by late systolic retraction felt by the palpating finger  when  the LV contracts and rotates  ,  the LV apex and the adjacent  interventricular septum hits against the chest wall. It is usually felt at the 5th left intercostal space just inside the mid clavicular line , lasting less than 30% of systole and  occupying less than 3 square cms area.

Source : Horwitz ,signs and symptoms in clinical cardiology .1985. Lippincot 

Should we always be able to palpate an apical impulse ? 

Not really.If apical impulse is not felt in the sitting posture ,  one has to try in the left lateral position .In  thick chest walled persons it may be impossible to feel the apical impulse in any postion. Many times it is so tiny it lies behind a rib and one will not feel it. In  pericardial effusion also apical impulse is absent.

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