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Grand Rounds | Clinician's Corner

Persistent Chest Pain and No Obstructive Coronary Artery Disease

Anita Phan, MD, MA; Chrisandra Shufelt, MD, MS; C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD
JAMA. 2009;301(14):1468-1474. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.425.
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Patients with persistent chest pain and no obstructive coronary artery disease are often labeled as having noncardiac pain and not offered further cardiologic testing or treatment. Diagnostic uncertainty for persistent chest pain is associated with adverse quality of life, morbidity, and health care costs. Two underdiagnosed cardiac causes for persistent chest pain include microvascular coronary disease and abnormal cardiac nociception. Microvascular coronary disease is associated with an increased risk of adverse cardiovascular events such as myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and sudden cardiac death, and treatment directed at improving endothelial function can improve outcomes. Abnormal cardiac nociception is also a cause for persistent chest pain caused by heightened coronary pain perception. Coronary reactivity testing allows for direct measurement of blood flow characteristics in response to vasoactive agents for the diagnoses of microvascular coronary disease and can be a useful tool to differentiate causes of chest pain. Coronary reactivity testing is an invasive method for assessing coronary vascular function, with current evidence suggesting that its associated risk is relatively low compared with the adverse prognosis associated with microvascular coronary dysfunction. Accurate diagnosis in patients with persistent chest pain and normal coronary arteries can be challenging and deserves adequate investigation in light of the associated morbidity, mortality, and health care costs.

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