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Am Heart J. 2002 Jul;144(1):51-9.

Perceptions of chest pain differ by race.

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  • 1Henry Ford Heart and Vascular Institute, USA.



African American patients are less likely to receive thrombolytic therapy and coronary revascularization than are white patients. Delay and clinical presentation may be keys to understanding differences in care.


To determine how symptom recognition and perception influence clinical presentation as a function of race, we characterized symptoms and care-seeking behavior in African American and white patients seen in the ED with chest pain.


The prospective study was conducted from April 1999 to September 1999 among patients who were seen in the ED and were admitted or observed in the ED Chest Pain Unit (n = 215). Interviews were conducted within 48 hours with a structured set of questions.


Thirty-one percent of white patients and 8.9% of African American patients were admitted with a diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction (P =.001). African American patients were as likely as white patients to report "typical" objective symptoms but were more likely to attribute their symptoms to a gastrointestinal source rather than a cardiac source (P =.05). Of those patients with the final diagnosis of myocardial infarction (n = 45), 61% of African American patients attributed symptoms to a gastrointestinal source and 11% to a cardiac source, versus 26% and 33%, respectively, for white patients. The median prehospital delay for African American patients was 263 minutes (interquartile range, 120 to 756 minutes), similar to the 247 minutes for white patients (interquartile range, 101 to 825 minutes, P =.72), despite African American patients (80%) being more likely than white patients (66%) to perceive their symptoms as severe/life-threatening at onset (P =.05).


Racial differences in symptom perception exist. Although the proportion of objectively defined typical symptoms were similar, self-attribution was more often noncardiac in African American patients than in white patients. Self-attribution, in addition to objective clinical findings, is likely to influence caregiver diagnostic approaches and therefore therapeutic approaches, and merits further study.

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