The earliest diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction

Annu Rev Med. 1994:45:31-44. doi: 10.1146/


Acute myocardial infarction results from the cessation of myocardial blood flow caused by thrombotic occlusion of a coronary artery. Rapid restoration of blood flow to the ischemic myocardium minimizes cardiac damage and improves early and long-term morbidity and mortality. Chest pain is the first symptom of myocardial infarction, but in some patients with silent ischemia, the disease can be diagnosed only in retrospect. In symptomatic patients, myocardial infarction should be accurately and promptly diagnosed so that reperfusion therapy can begin immediately. Electrocardiography is the simplest diagnostic modality. Although regional ST-segment elevation is specific, it is not sensitive. In contrast, new computerized algorithms for electrocardiographic analysis and serial monitoring increase sensitivity without decreasing specificity. In the emergency room, echocardiography is used to diagnose patients with no prior history of coronary artery disease whose electrocardiograms proved nondiagnostic. Time-consuming perfusion nuclear studies are inferior to echocardiography but may nevertheless enable physicians to diagnose myocardial infarction in the emergency room. Although the presence of excess creatine kinase is a sign of myocardial necrosis, its increase is delayed for a few hours after coronary occlusion. Doctors can diagnose myocardial infarction as early as two hours after coronary occlusion with the help of simpler automatic assays of MB-creatine kinase mass that use monoclonal antibodies. Other investigational markers of myocardial necrosis include myoglobin and troponin. Elevation of a circulating protein marker also signifies established necrosis, but physicians hope to achieve reperfusion through therapy before irreversible damage occurs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Creatine Kinase / analysis
  • Echocardiography
  • Electrocardiography
  • Humans
  • Isoenzymes
  • Myocardial Infarction / diagnosis*
  • Myocardial Infarction / therapy
  • Myocardial Reperfusion
  • Time Factors


  • Isoenzymes
  • Creatine Kinase