Pulseless electrical activity (PEA) and asystole are related cardiac rhythms in that they are both life-threatening and unshockable cardiac rhythms. Asystole is a flat-line ECG. There may be a subtle movement away from baseline (drifting flat-line), but there is no perceptible cardiac electrical activity. Always ensure that a reading of asystole is not a user or technical error. Make sure pads have good contact with the individual, leads are connected, the gain is set appropriately, and the power is on. PEA is one of many waveforms by ECG (including sinus rhythm) without a detectable pulse. PEA may include any pulseless waveform with the exception of VF, VT, or asystole .
Hypovolemia and hypoxia are the two most common causes of PEA. They are also the most easily reversible and should be at the top of any differential diagnosis.
If the individual has a return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC), proceed to post-cardiac arrest care.
Rules for PEA and Asystole
A “flat line” is reserved for Asystole definition but PEA includes flat line as well as any other wave (except VF, VT, and SVT).
|PEA Regularity||Any rhythm including a flat line (asystole).|
|Rate||Any rate or no rate.|
|P Wave||Possible P wave or none detectable.|
|PR Interval||Possible PR wave or none detectable.|
|QRS||Possible QRS complex or none detectable.|
|Asystole Regularity||The rhythm will be a nearly flat line.|
|Rate||There is no rate.|
|P Wave||There are no P waves present.|
|PR Interval||PR interval is unable to be measured due to no P waves being present.|
|QRS||There are no QRS complexes present.|
|Reversible Causes of Cardiac Arrest|
|The H’s||The T’s|
- Always verify that a reading of asystole is not equipment failure. Make sure pads make good contact with the individual, all cables are connected, gain is set appropriately, and the power is on.
- Hypovolemia and hypoxia are easily reversed and are the two most common causes of PEA.
STANDARD DOSE EPINEPHRINE IS VASOPRESSOR OF CHOICE
Epinephrine is still the best choice according to 2020 guidelines. Of sixteen observational studies on timing in the recent systematic review, all found an association between earlier epinephrine and ROSC for patients with non-shockable rhythms, although improvements in survival were not universally seen.
For patients with a shockable rhythm, the literature supports prioritizing defibrillation and CPR initially and giving epinephrine if initial attempts with CPR and defibrillation are not successful.