Review Article| Volume 59, SUPPLEMENT 1, S41-S46, October 2010

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Chest pain of cardiac and noncardiac origin


      Chest pain is one of the most common symptoms driving patients to a physician's office or the hospital's emergency department. In approximately half of the cases, chest pain is of cardiac origin, either ischemic cardiac or nonischemic cardiac disease. The other half is due to noncardiac causes, primarily esophageal disorder. Pain from either origin may occur in the same patient. In addition, psychological and psychiatric factors play a significant role in the perception and severity of the chest pain, irrespective of its cause. Chest pain of ischemic cardiac disease is called angina pectoris. Stable angina may be the prelude of ischemic cardiac disease; and for this reason, it is essential to ensure a correct diagnosis. In most cases, further testing, such as exercise testing and angiography, should be considered. The more severe form of chest pain, unstable angina, also requires a firm diagnosis because it indicates severe coronary disease and is the earliest manifestation of acute myocardial infarction. Once a diagnosis of stable or unstable angina is established, and if a decision is made not to use invasive therapy, such as coronary bypass, percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty, or stent insertion, effective medical treatment of associated cardiac risk factors is a must. Acute myocardial infarction occurring after a diagnosis of angina greatly increases the risk of subsequent death. Chest pain in women warrants added attention because women underestimate their likelihood to have coronary heart disease. A factor that complicates the clinical assessment of patients with chest pain (both cardiac and noncardiac in origin) is the relatively common presence of psychological and psychiatric conditions such as depression or panic disorder. These factors have been found to cause or worsen chest pain; but unfortunately, they may not be easily detected. Noncardiac chest pain represents the remaining half of all cases of chest pain. Although there are a number of causes, gastroesophageal disorders are by far the most prevalent, especially gastroesophageal reflux disease. Fortunately, this disease can be diagnosed and treated effectively by proton-pump inhibitors. The other types of non-gastroesophageal reflux disease–related noncardiac chest pain are more difficult to diagnose and treat. In conclusion, the cause of chest pain must be accurately diagnosed; and treatment must be pursued according to the cause, especially if the cause is of cardiac origin.
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