Chest wall syndrome in primary care patients with chest pain: presentation, associated features and diagnosis

Fam Pract. 2010 Aug;27(4):363-9. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmq024. Epub 2010 Apr 20.


Background: Chest wall syndrome (CWS) is the most frequent aetiology of chest pain in a primary care setting.

Objective: The aims of the study are to describe the epidemiology, clinical characteristics and prognosis of CWS and to provide a simple decision rule for diagnosis.

Methods: We included 1212 consecutive patients with chest pain aged 35 years and older attending 74 GPs. GPs recorded symptoms and findings of each patient and provided follow-up information. An independent interdisciplinary reference panel reviewed clinical data of every patient and decided about the aetiology of chest pain at the time of patient recruitment. Multivariable regression analysis was performed to identify clinical predictors that help to rule in or out the diagnosis of CWS.

Results: GPs diagnosed pain originating from the chest wall in 46.6% of all patients. In most patients, pain was localized retrosternal (52.0%) and/or on the left side (69.2%). In total, 28.0% of CWS patients showed persistent pain and most patients reported no temporal association of pain (72.3%). In total, 55.4% of patients still had chest pain after 6 months. A simple score containing four determinants (localized muscle tension, stinging pain, pain reproducible by palpation and absence of cough) shows an area under the receiver operating characteristic curve of 0.78 (95% confidence interval: 0.75-0.81).

Conclusions: This study broadens the knowledge about pain characteristics and the diagnostic accuracy of selected signs and symptoms for CWS. A simple four-point score can help the GP in the diagnostic workup of chest pain patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chest Pain / diagnosis*
  • Chest Pain / epidemiology
  • Chest Pain / etiology*
  • Female
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Primary Health Care
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Syndrome
  • Thoracic Wall* / injuries
  • Thoracic Wall* / pathology