Evaluation of Acute Chest Pain in the Emergency Department: “Triple Rule-Out” Computed Tomography Angiography


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Abstract

Triage of patients with acute, potentially life-threatening chest pain is one of the most important issues currently facing physicians in the emergency department. Appropriate evaluation of these patients begins with a skilled assessment of the individual patient's presenting symptoms and a careful review of his or her history and physical examination, often followed by serial recording of electrocardiograms and measurement of serum biochemical markers such as troponin and d-dimer. Stress testing, often accompanied by rest and stress myocardial perfusion imaging or echocardiography, and other diagnostic testing such as radionuclide lung scanning and invasive angiography may be required. A rapid, accurate, and cost-effective approach for the evaluation of emergency department patients with chest pain is needed. Development of newer generations of multidetector computed tomographic (MDCT) scanners, which are capable not only of performing high-quality noninvasive coronary angiography, but also concurrent aortic and pulmonary angiography, has led to increased use of MDCT for the so-called “triple rule out.” MDCT is used for the detection of 3 of the most common life-threatening causes of chest pain—coronary artery disease, acute aortic syndrome, and pulmonary emboli. While triple rule-out protocol can be very useful and potentially cost effective when used appropriately, concern has risen regarding the overuse of this technology, which could expose patients to unnecessary radiation and iodinated contrast. The triple rule-out protocol is most appropriate for patients who present with acute chest pain, but are judged to have low to intermediate increased risk for acute coronary syndrome, and whose chest pain symptoms might also be attributed to acute pathologic conditions of the aorta or pulmonary arteries. MDCT should not be used as a routine screening procedure. Continued technical improvements in acquisition speed and spatial resolution of computed tomography images, and development of more efficient image reconstruction algorithms which reduce patient exposure to radiation and contrast, may result in increased popularity of MDCT for “triple rule-out.”

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