Background Extreme prolongation or reduction of the QT interval predisposes patients to malignant ventricular arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death, but the association of variations in the QT interval within a reference range with mortality end points in the general population is unclear.
Methods We included 7828 men and women from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Baseline QT interval was measured via standard 12-lead electrocardiographic readings. Mortality end points were assessed through December 31, 2006 (2291 deaths).
Results After an average follow-up of 13.7 years, the association between QT interval and mortality end points was U-shaped. The multivariate-adjusted hazard ratios comparing participants at or above the 95th percentile of age-, sex-, race-, and R-R interval–corrected QT interval (≥439 milliseconds) with participants in the middle quintile (401 to <410 milliseconds) were 2.03 (95% confidence interval, 1.46-2.81) for total mortality, 2.55 (1.59-4.09) for mortality due to cardiovascular disease (CVD), 1.63 (0.96-2.75) for mortality due to coronary heart disease, and 1.65 (1.16-2.35) for non-CVD mortality. The corresponding hazard ratios comparing participants with a corrected QT interval below the fifth percentile (<377 milliseconds) with those in the middle quintile were 1.39 (95% confidence interval, 1.02-1.88) for total mortality, 1.35 (0.77-2.36) for CVD mortality, 1.02 (0.44-2.38) for coronary heart disease mortality, and 1.42 (0.97-2.08) for non-CVD mortality. Increased mortality also was observed with less extreme deviations of QT-interval duration. Similar, albeit weaker, associations also were observed with Bazett-corrected QT intervals.
Conclusion Shortened and prolonged QT-interval durations, even within a reference range, are associated with increased mortality risk in the general population.