The rational clinical examination. Is this patient having a myocardial infarction?


Journal Article

When faced with a patient with acute chest pain, clinicians must distinguish myocardial infarction (MI) from all other causes of acute chest pain. If MI is suspected, current therapeutic practice includes deciding whether to administer thrombolysis or primary percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty and whether to admit patients to a coronary care unit. The former decision is based on electrocardiographic (ECG) changes, including ST-segment elevation or left bundle-branch block, the latter on the likelihood of the patient's having unstable high-risk ischemia or MI without ECG changes. Despite advances in investigative modalities, a focused history and physical examination followed by an ECG remain the key tools for the diagnosis of MI. The most powerful features that increase the probability of MI, and their associated likelihood ratios (LRs), are new ST-segment elevation (LR range, 5.7-53.9); new Q wave (LR range, 5.3-24.8); chest pain radiating to both the left and right arm simultaneously (LR, 7.1); presence of a third heart sound (LR, 3.2); and hypotension (LR, 3.1). The most powerful features that decrease the probability of MI are a normal ECG result (LR range, 0.1-0.3), pleuritic chest pain (LR, 0.2), chest pain reproduced by palpation (LR range, 0.2-0.4), sharp or stabbing chest pain (LR, 0.3), and positional chest pain (LR, 0.3). Computer-derived algorithms that depend on clinical examination and ECG findings might improve the classification of patients according to the probability that an MI is causing their chest pain.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Panju, AA; Hemmelgarn, BR; Guyatt, GH; Simel, DL

Published Date

  • October 14, 1998

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 280 / 14

Start / End Page

  • 1256 - 1263

PubMed ID

  • 9786377

Pubmed Central ID

  • 9786377

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0098-7484

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1001/jama.280.14.1256


  • eng

Conference Location

  • United States