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Is MRI Effective for Evaluating Chest Pain in the ER?

March 10, 2009
Posted by: , Filed in: Emergency Radiology
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The “rule-in” process for chest pain generates an estimated $600 million per year in unnecessary in-patient expenses.

When a patient presents to the emergency room with chest pain, their acute coronary syndrome may include many different entities: ST-elevation myocardial infarction (MI), non-ST-elevation MI, and unstable angina.

In addition, recent estimates indicate nearly 2% of patients with acute MI are inappropriately discharged home from the emergency room (ER). These discharged patients have had MIs which are missed even though they have undergone proper testing.

In patients whose MI is missed, the mortality rate is around 16%. Therefore, the current diagnostic strategies imaging chest pain in the ER have their shortcomings which need to be addressed.

The question remains whether cardiac MRI can accurately identify patients with acute coronary syndrome. A prospective study was completed using 161 consecutive patients who presented to the ER with >30 minutes of chest pain compatible with myocardial ischemia.

The patients also must have had an ECG not diagnostic of acute MI.

MRI was performed at rest within 12 hours of presentation, and included perfusion, assessment of left ventricular function, and gadolinium-enhanced MI detection. All patients were followed up at 6 to 8 weeks to ensure that no acute coronary syndrome was missed.

From the study results, resting cardiac MRI appears suitable for the triage of patients with chest pain in the ER. Performed urgently to evaluate chest pain, MRI accurately detected a high fraction of patients with acute coronary syndrome, including those with enzyme-negative unstable angina.

One important limitation to note is that with cardiac MRI, there is the inability to differentiate acute versus chronic MI. Both have similar delayed enhancement characteristics, and cannot be differentiated.

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Cost-effectiveness may help our institutions gain more respect for this approach to chest pain assessment. If we are able to show a way to address the $600 million per year of unnecessary in-patient expenses used to work up acute coronary syndrome, then widespread use may be just around the corner.

The take-home message here: Resting cardiac MRI is suitable to triage patients with chest pain who present in the emergency room.

Author: Clay R. Hinrichs, MD

Reference: Kwong RY, Ashussheim AE, et al: Detecting Acute Coronary Syndrome in the Emergency Department With Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Circulation; 2003; 107 (February): 531-537

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