Chest Pain Relief by Nitroglycerin Does Not Predict Active Coronary Artery Disease

Charles A. Henrikson, Eric E. Howell, David E. Bush, J. Shawn Miles, Glenn R. Meininger, Tracy Friedlander, Andrew C. Bushnell, Nisha Chandra-Strobos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


Background: The belief that chest pain relief with nitroglycerin indicates the presence of active coronary artery disease is common. However, this hypothesis has not been tested. Objective: To define the diagnostic and prognostic value of chest pain relief with nitroglycerin. Design: Prospective observational cohort study. Setting: Urban community teaching hospital. Patients: 459 consecutive patients with chest pain admitted through the emergency department who received nitroglycerin from emergency services personnel or an emergency department nurse. Follow-up was obtained by telephone contact at 4 months. Measurements: Chest pain relief was defined as a decrease of at least 50% in patients' self-reported pain within 5 minutes of the initial dose of sublingual or spray nitroglycerin. Active coronary artery disease was defined as any elevated serum enzyme levels, coronary angiography demonstrating a 70% or greater stenosis, or a positive exercise test result. Results: Nitroglycerin relieved chest pain in 39% of patients (181 of 459). In patients with active coronary artery disease as the likely cause of their chest pain, 35% (49 of 141) had chest pain relief with nitroglycerin. In contrast, in patients without active coronary artery disease, 41% (113 of 275) had chest pain relief (P > 0.2). Four-month clinical outcomes were similar in patients with or without chest pain relief with nitroglycerin (P > 0.2). Conclusions: These data suggest that, in a general population admitted for chest pain, relief of pain after nitroglycerin treatment does not predict active coronary artery disease and should not be used to guide diagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)979-986+I30
JournalAnnals of internal medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 16 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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