Unstable angina is a common ischemic syndrome that is characterized by chest pain occurring at rest often with transient ischemic electrocardiographic changes. Although most patients with unstable angina experience relief of pain with intensive medical therapy while in the coronary care unit, they subsequently have a high incidence of unfavorable cardiac events usually occurring within several months. Continuous electrocardiographic monitoring for ischemia has demonstrated a relatively high incidence of ischemic episodes both in patients with stable and unstable angina pectoris. The prognostic importance of such findings has been previously uncertain. The prognostic significance of silent myocardial ischemia in patients with unstable angina receiving intensive medical therapy has been addressed in a study of hospitalized patients in a coronary care unit. All patients were treated with nitrates, nifedipine, and propranolol. Continuous two-channel electrocardiographic monitoring was performed during the first two days of medical therapy. The electrocardiographic recordings were interpreted blindly for frequency and duration of ischemic changes, and these episodes were determined to be either symptomatic or silent. The prevalence of silent ischemic episodes, their prognostic significance, their contribution to the total ischemic burden, and the effects of different medical regimens on these variables are discussed.
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