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Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005 Jan 25;(1):CD004101.

Psychological interventions for symptomatic management of non-specific chest pain in patients with normal coronary anatomy.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Dalhousie University, 9th floor, Abbie J Lane Building, Queen Elizabeth II Centre, 5909 Veteran's Memorial Lane, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, B3H 2E2. Stephen.Kisely@cdha.nshealth.ca



Recurrent chest pain in the absence of coronary artery disease is a common problem that sometimes leads to excess use of medical care. Although many studies examine the causes of pain in these patients, few clinical trails have evaluated treatment. The studies reviewed in this paper provide an insight into the effectiveness of psychological interventions for this group of patients.


To investigate psychological treatments for non-specific chest pain (NSCP) with normal coronary anatomy.


We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (2002, Issue 3), MEDLINE (1966 to 2002), CINAHL (1982 to 2002) EMBASE (1980 to 2002), PSYCH Info (1887 to 2002), the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effectiveness (DARE) and Biological Abstracts (January 1980 to 2002). We also searched citation lists and approached authors.


RCTs with standardised outcome methodology that tested any form of psychotherapy for chest pain with normal anatomy. Diagnoses included non-specific chest pain, atypical chest pain, syndrome X, or chest pain with normal coronary anatomy (as either inpatients or outpatients).


Two authors independently selected studies for inclusion, extracted data and assessed quality of studies. The authors contacted trial authors for further information about the RCTs included.


Eight studies involving 403 randomised participants were included. There was a significant reduction in reports of chest pain in the first three months following the intervention; fixed effects relative risk = 0.68 (95% CI 0.57 to 0.81). This was maintained from 3 to 9 months afterwards; relative risk = 0.58 (95% CI 0.45 to 0.76). There was also a significant increase in the number of chest pain free days up to three months following the intervention; the standardized mean difference = 0.85 (95% CI 0.38 to 1.31). However, there was high heterogeneity for this test. Wide variability in outcome measures made integration of studies for secondary outcome measures difficult.


Review suggested a modest to moderate benefit for psychological interventions, particularly those using a cognitive-behavioural framework, which was largely restricted to the first three months after the intervention. The evidence for brief interventions was less clear. Further RCTs of psychological interventions for NSCP with follow-up periods of at least 12 months are needed.

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