False-Positive Stress Echocardiograms: A Continuing Challenge

Ochsner J. 2016 Fall;16(3):277-9.


Background: Stress echocardiography is an integral test in the cardiac diagnostic laboratory and has high sensitivity and specificity. Despite the excellent specificity of stress echocardiography, we continue to see a subset of patients with false-positive tests (defined as <50% diameter stenosis on subsequent coronary angiography). These false-positive findings present a management challenge because it remains unclear if and how to treat these patients.

Methods: This article reviews relevant clinical studies and their outcomes.

Results: Studies suggest that a group of patients develops a hypertensive response to exercise and therefore may have false-positive stress echocardiography. Hence, superior blood pressure control prior to stress echocardiography may prevent some false-positive tests. In addition, a subset of patients has microvascular abnormalities, vasomotor changes, endothelial dysfunction, and/or small vessel coronary disease that can lead to false-positive stress echocardiography.

Conclusion: The evidence is insufficient to state that a false-positive stress echocardiography in the absence of obstructive coronary artery disease portends a poor outcome, but considerable evidence shows that some of these patients have microvascular abnormalities and endothelial dysfunction and consequently may benefit from aggressive medical management and further testing.

Keywords: Coronary artery disease; coronary stenosis; echocardiography–stress; false-positive reactions.

Publication types

  • Review