Heart Education
4
MINUTE READ

What Is Junctional Rhythm? Can Your Watch ECG Detect It?

ReadMyECG Team
What Is Junctional Rhythm? Can Your Watch ECG Detect It?

Key Takeaways

What is Junctional Rhythm?

Junctional rhythm (JR) is a type of irregular heartbeat. A normal heartbeat relies on electrical activation by signals originating from the sinoatrial (SA) node, located in the heart's upper-right-hand chamber (right atrium). However, in junctional rhythm, the electrical signals originate from the atrioventricular (AV) node or the His bundle, instead. This phenomenon typically results in a slower rhythm or heartbeat. However, it can sometimes be faster and is then referred to as an accelerated junctional rhythm. A number of junctional rhythms exist:

  • Junctional bradycardia: heart rate below 40 beats per minute 
  • Junctional escape rhythm: heart rate of 40 to 60 beats per minute 
  • Accelerated junctional rhythm: heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute
  • Junctional tachycardia: heart rate above 100 beats per minute

Junctional rhythm is common among people with a sinus node dysfunction (SND), people with sick sinus syndrome, and young children and athletes with increased vagal nerve activity. It’s documented equally in women and men.

Can Your Smartwatch 1-lead ECG (like the Apple Watch or Samsung Watch) Capture Them?

Yes, smartwatch ECGs can detect junctional rhythm. 1-lead ECG monitors, found in smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Samsung watches, are used for the basic monitoring of the heart. This includes checking for irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmias, or observing the effects of exercise. It’s important to consult your physician if you notice any symptoms typical of junctional rhythm, even if no abnormalities are detected.

How Can You Tell If Your ECG Has Junctional Rhythm?

The characteristic feature of a junctional rhythm is that QRS complexes are observed without a preceding P-wave. There may or may not be P-waves that come after the QRS complexes or that are independent of or dissociated from the QRS complexes. The QRS complexes are often narrow, and the rhythm slow (less than 60bpm). 

Junctional rhythm captured on an Apple Watch ECG.

Are They a Cause for Concern?

Junctional rhythms are often no cause for concern, especially when presenting in healthy individuals showing no accompanying symptoms. However, they can be an indicator of an underlying condition. Conditions such as sinus node dysfunction (SND), which is present in 1 in 600 cardiac patients above the age of 65 in the US, typically result in junctional rhythm. Other possible causes for junctional rhythms include:

  • Hypokalemia or low potassium
  • Cardiac surgery
  • Digoxin toxicity
  • Irritable or electrically over-active tissue near the AV junction
  • Acute inflammatory processes like rheumatic fever and Lyme disease
  • Drugs like beta-blockers and calcium blockers that cause bradycardia

Your medical practitioner should identify other conditions and medications causing junctional rhythm before proceeding with appropriate treatment, especially if you notice accompanying symptoms.

What Are Common Symptoms and Treatment Options?

There can be a large variety of symptoms that present due to a junctional rhythm. This is because a junctional rhythm is usually a result of multiple possible underlying conditions. Symptoms caused by junctional rhythm itself can be due to the reduced heart rate (less than 60bpm) or loss of AV synchrony. These generalized symptoms include:

  • Light-headedness
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Chest heaviness 
  • Neck tightness or pounding 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Dizziness 
  • Fatigue and weakness. 

If the underlying cause is heart failure exacerbation, the patient may also experience wheezing and lower extremity edema (swelling). Another variation of symptoms can occur in patients with rheumatic fever.

As junctional rhythm can be due to various causes, treatment depends on the underlying condition that the patient has. In some cases, no treatment is required when the patient is otherwise healthy and asymptomatic, or if the patient has an underlying sinus node dysfunction. This is because it’s sometimes a natural response to increased vagal nerve activity often found in athletes and young children. It can also be a response to the SA node's inability to regulate the heartbeat, in which case it’s necessary for the AV node to take over.

Summary

Using smartwatch apps to monitor your health can help you identify arrhythmias like junctional rhythm early on. If you’re concerned about the ECG tracings from your smartwatch, get them reviewed by experts within minutes through the ReadMyECG app on iOS and Android. As always, if you show signs of a potential junctional rhythm, contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible to rule out the presence of harmful underlying conditions.

Get second opinions of your ECGs by human experts on the ReadMyECG app!

Interpret My ECG Now

By using this website, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.