Chest pain in daily practice: occurrence, causes and management

Swiss Med Wkly. 2008 Jun 14;138(23-24):340-7. doi: 10.4414/smw.2008.12123.


Questions under study: We assessed the occurrence and aetiology of chest pain in primary care practice. These features differ between primary and emergency care settings, where most previous studies have been performed.

Methods: 59 GPs in western Switzerland recorded all consecutive cases presenting with chest pain. Clinical characteristics, laboratory tests and other investigations as well as the diagnoses remaining after 12 months of follow-up were systematically registered.

Results: Among 24,620 patients examined during a total duration of 300 weeks of observation, 672 (2.7%) presented with chest pain (52% female, mean age 55 +/- 19(SD)). Most cases, 442 (1.8%), presented new symptoms and in 356 (1.4%) it was the reason for consulting. Over 40 ailments were diagnosed: musculoskeletal chest pain (including chest wall syndrome) (49%), cardiovascular (16%), psychogenic (11%), respiratory (10%), digestive (8%), miscellaneous (2%) and without diagnosis (3%). The three most prevalent diseases were: chest wall syndrome (43%), coronary artery disease (12%) and anxiety (7%). Unstable angina (6), myocardial infarction (4) and pulmonary embolism (2) were uncommon (1.8%). Potentially serious conditions including cardiac, respiratory and neoplasic diseases accounted for 20% of cases. A large number of laboratory tests (42%), referral to a specialist (16%) or hospitalisation (5%) were performed. Twentyfive patients died during follow-up, of which twelve were for a reason directly associated with thoracic pain [cancer (7) and cardiac causes (5)].

Conclusions: Thoracic pain was present in 2.7% of primary care consultations. Chest wall syndrome pain was the main aetiology. Cardio - vascular emergencies were uncommon. However chest pain deserves full consideration because of the occurrence of potentially serious conditions.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Chest Pain / epidemiology*
  • Chest Pain / etiology
  • Chest Pain / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Prospective Studies