Value and limitations of chest pain history in the evaluation of patients with suspected acute coronary syndromes

JAMA. 2005 Nov 23;294(20):2623-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.294.20.2623.


Context: The chest pain history, physical examination, determination of coronary artery disease (CAD) risk factors, and the initial electrocardiogram compose the information immediately available to clinicians to help determine the probability of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) or acute coronary syndrome (ACS) in patients with chest pain. However, conflicting data exist about the usefulness of the chest pain history and which components are most useful.

Objective: To identify the elements of the chest pain history that may be most helpful to the clinician in identifying ACS in patients presenting with chest pain.

Evidence acquisition: MEDLINE and Ovid were searched from 1970 to September 2005 by using specific key words and Medical Subject Heading terms. Reference lists of these articles and current cardiology textbooks were also consulted.

Evidence synthesis: Certain chest pain characteristics decrease the likelihood of ACS or AMI, namely, pain that is stabbing, pleuritic, positional, or reproducible by palpation (likelihood ratios [LRs] 0.2-0.3). Conversely, chest pain that radiates to one shoulder or both shoulders or arms or is precipitated by exertion is associated with LRs (2.3-4.7) that increase the likelihood of ACS. The chest pain history itself has not proven to be a powerful enough predictive tool to obviate the need for at least some diagnostic testing. Combinations of elements of the chest pain history with other initially available information, such as a history of CAD, have identified certain groups that may be safe for discharge without further evaluation, but further study is needed before such a recommendation can be considered reasonable.

Conclusion: Although certain elements of the chest pain history are associated with increased or decreased likelihoods of a diagnosis of ACS or AMI, none of them alone or in combination identify a group of patients that can be safely discharged without further diagnostic testing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Angina Pectoris / diagnosis
  • Chest Pain / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Medical History Taking*
  • Myocardial Infarction / diagnosis*
  • Risk Assessment