Chest pain in the emergency department: the case against our current practice of routine noninvasive testing

Arch Intern Med. 2012 Oct 22;172(19):1506-9. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2012.4037.


Current clinical practice for patients presenting to the emergency department with a resolved episode of chest pain and no electrographic or biomarker abnormalities is to conduct routine noninvasive testing, in accordance with American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association guidelines. The rationale is to further reduce the risk of missing a myocardial infarction, a major source of suits filed against emergency department physicians. Patients with negative stress test results may be reassured, with low event rates in the subsequent 30 days. Patients with positive stress test results have higher 30-day event rates, and a small fraction undergo revascularization procedures. Despite this endorsement, open questions remain. Does our current practice lead to the stenting of asymptomatic patients in the inevitable cases where the inciting pain was noncardiac? And, most importantly, does our practice improve outcomes? Randomized trials evaluating routine stress testing in other contexts have yielded negative results, despite diagnosing significant coronary artery disease. Population data suggest that our current practice may be increasing the diagnosis of coronary artery disease and the rate of intervention while failing to decrease rates of myocardial infarction. We propose that randomized trials be conducted to evaluate whether any testing is better than no further intervention. Data from such an evidence-based approach has the potential to reverse our current practice.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chest Pain* / diagnosis
  • Chest Pain* / epidemiology
  • Chest Pain* / etiology
  • Coronary Angiography / methods
  • Coronary Disease / complications
  • Coronary Disease / diagnosis*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Exercise Test / methods*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Myocardial Infarction / complications
  • Myocardial Infarction / diagnosis*
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • United States / epidemiology