OBJECTIVES: Our purpose was to determine the safety and accuracy of immediate exercise testing in low-risk patients presenting to the emergency department (ED) with chest pain suggestive of a cardiac etiology. BACKGROUND: Safe, efficient management of low-risk patients presenting to the ED with chest pain is a continuing challenge. We have employed immediate exercise testing to evaluate a large, heterogeneous group of low-risk patients presenting with chest pain. METHODS: Patients presenting to the ED with chest pain compatible with a cardiac origin and clinical evidence of low risk on initial assessment underwent immediate exercise treadmill testing in our chest pain evaluation unit. Indicators of low clinical risk included no evidence of hemodynamic instability, arrhythmias or electrocardiographic signs of ischemia. Serial measurements of cardiac injury markers were not obtained. RESULTS: Exercise testing was performed to a sign- or symptom-limited end point in 1,000 patients (520 men, 480 women; age range 31 to 82 years) and was positive for ischemia in 13%, negative in 64% and nondiagnostic in 23% of patients. There were no adverse effects of exercise testing, and all patients with a negative exercise test were discharged directly from the ED. At 30-day follow-up there was no mortality in any of the three groups. Cardiac events in the three groups included: negative group, 1 non-Q-wave myocardial infarction (MI); positive group, 4 non-Q-wave MIs and 12 myocardial revascularizations; nondiagnostic group, 7 myocardial revascularizations. CONCLUSIONS: Immediate exercise testing of patients presenting to the ED with chest pain and evidence of low clinical risk is safe and accurate for determining those who require admission and those who can be discharged to further outpatient evaluation.
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