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Cause and outcome of atypical chest pain in patients admitted to hospital

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Lynette Spalding, Emma Reay


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In patients with acute chest pain the prime need, usually, is to diagnose and treat myocardial infarction or ischaemia. When a cardiac origin for the pain has been excluded, patients are commonly discharged without either a diagnosis or a plan for follow-up. We studied a group of such patients to see how far causation was pursued and how their mortality compared with that of patients with a proven cardiac cause for their symptoms. The study population was 250 patients admitted over five weeks with chest pain suspected of being cardiac in origin. Initial assessment included an electrocardiogram and measurement of troponin T. If neither of these indicated a cardiac event, the patient was deemed to have 'atypical' chest pain and the cause, where defined, was recorded. Outcomes at one year were determined by questionnaire and by assessment of medical notes. Of the 250 patients, 142 had cardiac pain (mean age 79 years, 58% male) and 108 atypical chest pain (mean age 60 years, 55% male). Of those with atypical pain, 40 were discharged without a diagnosis; in the remaining 68 the pain was thought to be musculoskeletal (25), cardiac (21), gastrointestinal (12) or respiratory (10) in origin. 41 patients were given a follow-up appointment on discharge. At one year, data were available on 103 (96%) patients. The mortality rate was 2.9% (3 patients) compared with 18.3% in those with an original cardiac event. Half of the patients with atypical pain had undergone further investigations and 14% had been readmitted. The yield of investigative procedures was generally low (20%) but at the end of the year only 27 patients remained undiagnosed. Patients with atypical chest pain form a substantial proportion of emergency admissions. The symptoms often persist or recur. The commonest causation is musculoskeletal, but a sizeable minority remain undiagnosed even after follow-up.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Spalding L, Reay E, Kelly C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

Year: 2003

Volume: 96

Issue: 3

Pages: 122-125

ISSN (print): 0141-0768

ISSN (electronic): 1758-1095

Publisher: Royal Society of Medicine Press


DOI: 10.1258/jrsm.96.3.122

PubMed id: 12612112


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