Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Heart rate monitoring on the stroke unit. What does heart beat tell about prognosis? An observational study

Martin A Ritter1*, Anne Rohde1, Peter U Heuschmann2, Rainer Dziewas1, Jörg Stypmann3, Darius G Nabavi4 and Bernd E Ringelstein1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Neurology, University of Münster, Münster, Germany

2 Center for Stroke Research Berlin, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Berlin, Germany

3 Department of Cardiology, University of Münster, Münster, Germany

4 Department of Neurology, Vivantes Klinikum Neukölln, Berlin, Germany

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BMC Neurology 2011, 11:47  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-11-47

Published: 27 April 2011



Guidelines recommend maintaining the heart rate (HR) of acute stroke patients within physiological limits; data on the frequency and predictors of significant deviations from these limits are scarce.


Demographical data, stroke risk factors, NIH stroke scale score, lesion size and location, and ECG parameters were prospectively assessed in 256 patients with ischemic stroke. Patients were continuously monitored for at least 24 hours on a certified stroke unit. Tachycardia (HR ≥120 bpm) and bradycardia (HR <45 bpm) and cardiac rhythm (sinus rhythm or atrial fibrillation) were documented. We investigated the influence of risk factors on HR disturbances and their respective influence on dependence (modified Rankin Scale ≥ 3 after three months) and mortality.


HR ≥120 bpm occurred in 39 patients (15%). Stroke severity (larger lesion size/higher NIHSS-score on admission), atrial fibrillation and HR on admission predicted its occurrence. HR <45 bpm occurred in 12 patients (5%) and was predicted by lower HR on admission. Neither HR ≥120 nor HR <45 bpm independently predicted poor outcome at three moths. Stroke location had no effect on the occurrence of HR violations. Clinical severity and age remained the only consistent predictors of poor outcome.


Significant tachycardia and bradycardia are frequent phenomena in acute stroke; however they do not independently predict clinical course or outcome. Continuous monitoring allows detecting rhythm disturbances in stroke patients and allows deciding whether urgent medical treatment is necessary.