Accuracy of biomarkers to diagnose acute cardiac ischemia in the emergency department: a meta-analysis

Ann Emerg Med. 2001 May;37(5):478-94. doi: 10.1067/mem.2001.114905.


Study objective: We sought to evaluate quantitatively the evidence on the diagnostic performance of presentation and serial biochemical markers for emergency department diagnosis of acute cardiac ischemia (ACI), including acute myocardial infarction (AMI) and unstable angina.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the English-language literature published between 1966 and December 1998. We examined the diagnostic performance of creatine kinase, creatine kinase-MB, myoglobin, and troponin I and T testing. Diagnostic performance was assessed by using estimates of test sensitivity and specificity and was summarized by summary receiver-operating characteristic curves.

Results: Only 4 studies were found that evaluated all patients with ACI; 73 were found that focused only on a diagnosis of AMI. To diagnose ACI, presentation biomarker tests had sensitivities of 16% to 19% and specificities of 96% to 100%; serial biomarker tests had sensitivities of 31% to 45% and specificities of 95% to 98%. Considering only the diagnosis of AMI, presentation biomarker tests had summary sensitivities of 37% to 49% and summary specificities of 87% to 97%; serial biomarker tests had summary sensitivities of 79% to 93% and summary specificities of 85% to 96%. Variation of test sensitivity was best explained by test timing. Longer symptom duration or time between serial tests yielded higher sensitivity.

Conclusion: The limited evidence available to evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of biomarkers for ACI suggests that biomarkers have very low sensitivity to diagnose ACI. Thus, biomarkers alone will greatly underdiagnose ACI and will be inadequate to make triage decisions. For AMI diagnosis alone, multiple testing of individual biomarkers over time substantially improves sensitivity, while retaining high specificity, at the expense of additional time. Further high-quality studies are needed on the clinical effect of using biomarkers for patients with ACI in the ED and on optimal timing of serial testing and in combination with other tests.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Angina, Unstable / blood*
  • Angina, Unstable / diagnosis*
  • Angina, Unstable / enzymology
  • Bias
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Creatine Kinase / blood*
  • Creatine Kinase, MB Form
  • Emergency Treatment / methods*
  • Emergency Treatment / standards*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes / blood*
  • Myocardial Infarction / blood*
  • Myocardial Infarction / diagnosis*
  • Myocardial Infarction / enzymology
  • Myocardial Ischemia / blood*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / diagnosis*
  • Myocardial Ischemia / enzymology
  • Myoglobin / blood*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Research Design
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Triage / methods
  • Triage / standards
  • Troponin I / blood*
  • Troponin T / blood*


  • Biomarkers
  • Isoenzymes
  • Myoglobin
  • Troponin I
  • Troponin T
  • Creatine Kinase
  • Creatine Kinase, MB Form