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Postmortem detection of inapparent myocardial infarction
  1. J. G. McVie
  1. Department of Pathology, University of Edinburgh


    Two methods of detecting early inapparent myocardial infarcts have been studied and their value in diagnostic practice compared.

    The better method proved to be the determination of the potassium to sodium ratio (ionic ratio) which falls in infarcted tissue within minutes of the onset of anoxia. The second method was nitro blue tetrazolium staining of gross sections of myocardium which revealed any infarct older than three and a half hours. As staining is dependent upon enzyme activity, the latter method is disturbed by autolysis. It was shown, on the other hand, that the ionic ratio (K+/Na+) was not affected by autolysis and was therefore well suited to forensic practice.

    Sixteen non-infarcted control hearts, plus the nine from cases of sudden death due to causes other than myocardial infarction, all yielded high ionic ratios (K+/Na+), average 1·4, and stained normally with tetrazolium (the normal controls). Positive control was provided by 20 histologically proven infarcts of which the ionic ratios (K+/Na+) were all low (average 0·7). Histochemical staining with tetrazolium delineated infarcted areas in each case.

    In a series of 29 sudden deaths, a cause of death other than myocardial infarction was found at necropsy in nine, mentioned above as normal controls. The remaining 20 hearts were not infarcted histologically, but were shown to be infarcted by examination of the ionic ratios (K+/Na+). These ratios were low (average 0·8) including three borderline ratios. Confirmatory evidence of infarction included nitro blue tetrazolium staining which revealed infarcts in 10 of the 20 cases, and clinical and necropsy observations.

    The ionic ratio (K+/Na+) decreases as the age of the infarct increases for at least 24 hours. Thereafter as healing proceeds, the ratio gradually reverts to normal. Thus, previous infarction and replacement fibrosis do not significantly alter the ionic ratio (K+/Na+). Nor is it changed by left ventricular hypertrophy, the presence of congestive cardiac failure, or digitalis therapy.

    It is suggested that macroscopic tetrazolium staining is a useful screening test for early inapparent myocardial infarcts. In cases where no infarct is delineated with that method estimation of the ionic ratio (K+/Na+) should be carried out on myocardium removed from standard areas on the anterior and posterior left ventricular walls.

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