Chest pain associated with cocaine: an assessment of prevalence in suburban and urban emergency departments

Ann Emerg Med. 1995 Dec;26(6):671-6. doi: 10.1016/s0196-0644(95)70035-8.


Study objective: Chest pain and myocardial infarction following the use of cocaine have been well documented. We assessed the prevalence of cocaine use in patients who presented to the emergency department with chest pain of possibly ischemic origin.

Design: During times of research assistant availability, consecutive adults with the chief complaint of chest pain unexplained by trauma or radiographic abnormality were questioned about cocaine use in the preceding week. Urine was tested for the presence of cocaine or cocaine metabolites with a highly accurate bedside urine test kit (specificity, 100%; sensitivity 98%). Anonymous unlinked data-collection methods were used. Therefore we could not determine whether the patients who used cocaine had sustained myocardial infarctions.

Setting: One suburban and three urban EDs.

Results: We enrolled 359 patients with a mean age of 51 years, 8% of whom sustained myocardial infarctions. Sixty patients (17%) had cocaine or cocaine metabolites in urine. The likelihood of testing positive for cocaine varied by age group: 18 to 30 years, 29%; 31 to 40 years, 48%; 41 to 50 years, 18%; 51 to 60 years, 3%; 61 years or older, 0% (P < .0001). Of the 60 patients who tested positive for cocaine, only 43 (72%) admitted recent use.

Conclusion: Many ED patients with chest pain have recently used cocaine. Because the recent use of cocaine is not uncommon in patients with chest pain up to 60 years old, such patients should be questioned about cocaine use. When treatment or disposition may be altered, consideration should be given to objective assessment of cocaine use because patient self-report does not appear reliable.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chest Pain / chemically induced*
  • Cocaine* / adverse effects
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, Urban
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction / etiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Substance-Related Disorders / complications
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Suburban Health Services
  • United States


  • Cocaine