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Logo of bmcmedicineBioMed Centralsearchsubmit a manuscriptregisterthis articleBMC Medicine
BMC Med. 2012; 10: 58.
Published online 2012 June 12. doi:  10.1186/1741-7015-10-58
PMCID: PMC3391179

Prevalence and prognosis of non-specific chest pain among patients hospitalized for suspected acute coronary syndrome - a systematic literature search



The term non-specific chest pain (NSCP) is applied to hospitalized patients in order to designate that they neither have an acute coronary syndrome (ACS) nor display evidence of a coronary ischemia. The number of NSCP patients is increasing and comprehensive guidelines specifying their optimal management have not yet been introduced. The objective of this review was to explore the prevalence and prognosis of NSCP versus ACS among patients recruited in consecutive series hospitalized for chest pain suspected to be ACS.


This is a systematic literature search where three databases were searched from 1990 to 14 November 2011. In addition, one database was searched for Epub ahead of print per 24 March 2012. Three inclusion criteria were applied: 1. documentation of an unselected consecutive series of patients admitted for chest pain, where this review is based upon two groups of patients defined as follows: a) 'ACS/high-risk' and b) NSCP; 2. at least 100 cases with NSCP; and 3. follow-up of hospital readmissions and mortality for at least six months.


A total of 2,204 citations were screened after removal of duplicates. Out of 80 full text articles assessed for eligibility 12 studies were included, comprising 24,829 patients (inter-study range 250 to 13,762), with 11,008 (44%) categorized as NSCP and 13,821 (56%) as 'ACS/high-risk'. The mean one-year total mortality rate among patients with NSCP in nine studies was 3.2% (inter-study range 1.4% to 8.1%), with the highest mortality among patients with pre-existing coronary heart disease (CHD). The mean one-year mortality rate among 'ACS/high-risk' patients was 18.0% (inter-study range 14.0% to 19.9%) in four studies with available data. In six studies the mean one-year readmission rate for patients with NSCP was 17.5% (inter-study range 2.5% to 40%).


Patients with NSCP represent a large, heterogeneous and important group. Due to co-existing CHD in nearly 40% of these patients, their prognosis is not necessarily benign. Although their average one-year mortality rate was almost six times lower than those with 'ACS/high-risk', the subset with concomitant CHD had a relatively poor prognosis when compared with NSCP patients without evidence of CHD.

Keywords: Hospitalizations, non-specific chest pain, non-cardiac chest pain, atypical chest pain, chest pain not yet diagnosed, acute coronary syndrome, prognosis, readmissions, mortality

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