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CMAJ. 2000 May 30;162(11):1561-6.

Chest pain with nondiagnostic electrocardiogram in the emergency department: a randomized controlled trial of two cardiac marker regimens.

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  • 1Department of Emergency Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Queen's University, Kingston, Ont. dagnonel@post.queensu.ca



Early detection of acute myocardial infarction (AMI) may save lives. In the emergency setting, it is unclear whether the early use of certain cardiac markers (myoglobin and cardiac troponin I [cTnI]) assists in making appropriate decisions whether to admit or discharge patients with chest pain of possible ischemic cause who have nondiagnostic electrocardiograms (ECGs). We performed a study to determine whether the addition of new cardiac markers in the emergency department results in improved clinical decisions.


A single-blind randomized controlled trial was conducted between June 1997 and June 1998 in a tertiary care emergency department in Kingston, Ont. Of 296 patients aged 30 years or more who presented to the emergency department with chest pain and nondiagnostic ECGs, 146 were randomly assigned to the intervention group (determination of baseline creatine kinase [CK] level, CK MB fraction and cTnI level, and myoglobin level at baseline and at 2 hours) and 150 to the control group (determination of baseline CK level and CK MB fraction). Outcome measures included the rate of admission to the inpatient cardiology service and length of stay in the emergency department.


Of the 296 patients, 34 (11.5%) received a diagnosis of AMI in the emergency department, and 92 (31.1%) had chest pain of noncardiac cause. Patients in the intervention group were less likely than those in the control group to be admitted to the cardiology service (67 [45.9%] v. 81 [54.0%]). The absolute difference in the proportion (8.1% [95% confidence interval -3.3 to 19.5]), although potentially important clinically, was not statistically significant. The length of stay in the emergency department was essentially the same in the 2 study groups. At 30 days, the proportions of patients with a diagnosis of recurrent angina (58.2% in the intervention group and 58.0% in the control group) and AMI (12.3% and 14.7%) were also similar.


The optimal cardiac marker panel to be used in the emergency department remains unknown. The addition of serial testing of myoglobin with cTnI confirmation to the standard panel did not substantially change the clinical management or outcomes of patients presenting with chest pain and nondiagnostic ECGs.

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