Twenty-four-hour esophageal pH monitoring: the most useful test for evaluating noncardiac chest pain

Am J Med. 1991 May;90(5):576-83.


Study objective: To compare the diagnostic capabilities of traditional esophageal tests (manometry and provocative testing with acid and edrophonium) and 24-hour esophageal pH monitoring in identifying an esophageal cause of chest pain.

Design: A prospective study of 100 consecutive patients referred by cardiologists to the esophageal laboratory for evaluation of esophageal causes of chest pain.

Setting: Tertiary-referral university hospital.

Methods: Esophageal manometry performed with 10 wet swallows of water. Acid perfusion (0.1 N hydrochloric acid) and edrophonium (80 micrograms/kg intravenously) tests were placebo-controlled with a positive study defined as replication of typical chest pain. Esophageal pH monitoring identified (1) abnormal acid exposure times in the upright, supine, or combined position, and (2) correlation between symptoms and acid reflux, i.e., symptom index. The esophagus was identified as "probably" contributing to chest pain only if the acid or edrophonium test was positive or if there was a positive correlation between symptoms and acid reflux during pH monitoring.

Results: Esophageal manometry was abnormal in 32 patients (32%), but patients were asymptomatic during the study. The acid perfusion test was positive in 18 of 95 patients (19%), and the edrophonium test was positive in 15 of 78 patients (19%). Abnormal acid exposure times were found in 48 patients (48%). Of the 83 patients with spontaneous chest pain during 24-hour pH testing, 37 patients (46%) had abnormal reflux parameters and 50 patients (60%) had a positive symptom index (mean positive score 56%, range 6% to 100%).

Conclusions: Acid reflux is a common and potentially treatable cause of noncardiac chest pain. Traditional esophageal tests usually miss this diagnosis. Twenty-four-hour esophageal pH monitoring with symptom correlation is the single best test for evaluating patients with noncardiac chest pain.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care / methods
  • Ambulatory Care / standards*
  • Chest Pain / etiology*
  • Edrophonium
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / diagnosis*
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Hydrochloric Acid
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Male
  • Manometry / methods
  • Manometry / standards*
  • Middle Aged
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / methods
  • Monitoring, Physiologic / standards*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Supination
  • Time Factors


  • Edrophonium
  • Hydrochloric Acid