Frequency of acute coronary syndrome in patients with normal electrocardiogram performed during presence or absence of chest pain

Samuel D. Turnipseed, William S. Trythall, Deborah B. Diercks, Erik G. Laurin, J. Douglas Kirk, David S. Smith, David N. Main, Ezra A. Amsterdam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Objectives: The authors hypothesized that patients with active chest pain at the time of a normal electrocardiogram (ECG) have a lower frequency of acute coronary syndrome (ACS) than patients being evaluated for chest pain but with no active chest pain at the time of a normal ECG. The study objective was to describe the association between chest pain in patients with a normal ECG and the diagnosis of ACS. Methods: This was a prospective observational study of emergency department (ED) patients with a chief complaint of chest pain and an initial normal ECG admitted to the hospital for chest pain evaluation over a 1-year period. Two groups were identified: patients with chest pain during the ECG and patients without chest pain during the ECG. Normal ECG criteria were as follow: 1) normal sinus rhythm with heart rate of 55-105 beats/min, 2) normal QRS interval and ST segment, and 3) normal T-wave morphology or T-wave flattening. "Normal" excludes pathologic Q waves, left ventricular hypertrophy, nonspecific ST-T wave abnormalities, any ST depression, and discrepancies in the axis between the T wave and the QRS. Patients' initial ED ECGs were interpreted as normal or abnormal by two emergency physicians (EPs); differences in interpretation were resolved by a cardiologist. ACS was defined as follows: 1) elevation and characteristic evolution of troponin I level, 2) coronary angiography demonstrating >70% stenosis in a major coronary artery, or 3) positive noninvasive cardiac stress test. Chi-square analysis was performed and odds ratios (ORs) are presented. Results: A total of 1,741 patients were admitted with cardiopulmonary symptoms; 387 met study criteria. The study group comprised 199 males (51%) and 188 females (49%), mean age was 56 years (range, 25-90 years), and 106 (27%) had known coronary artery disease (CAD). A total of 261 (67%) patients experienced chest pain during ECG; 126 (33%) patients experienced no chest pain during ECG. There was no difference between the two groups in age, sex, cardiac risk factors, or known CAD. The frequency of ACS for the total study group was 17% (67/387). There was no difference in prevalence of ACS based on the presence or absence of chest pain (16% or 42/261 vs. 20% or 25/126; OR = 0.77, 95% confidence interval = 0.45 to 1.33, p = 0.4). Conclusions: Contrary to our hypothesis concerning patients who presented to the ED with a chief complaint of chest pain, our study demonstrated no difference in the frequency of acute coronary syndrome between patients with chest pain at the time of acquisition of a normal electrocardiogram and those without chest pain during acquisition of a normal electrocardiogram.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)495-499
Number of pages5
JournalAcademic Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009


  • Acute coronary syndrome
  • Chest pain
  • Electrocardiogram
  • Troponin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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