Skip Navigation U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Agency for Healthcare Research Quality
Archive print banner

Unstable Angina

This information is for reference purposes only. It was current when produced and may now be outdated. Archive material is no longer maintained, and some links may not work. Persons with disabilities having difficulty accessing this information should contact us at: Let us know the nature of the problem, the Web address of what you want, and your contact information.

Please go to for current information.

Full Title: Prediction of Risk for Patients With Unstable Angina

August 2000

View or download Summary/Report

Structured Abstract

Objective: Unstable angina comprises a broad spectrum of ischemic heart disease and is associated with varying levels of risk for unfavorable outcomes including myocardial infarction and death. Despite development of various diagnostic approaches, the evaluation of patients with chest pain suggestive of unstable angina or myocardial infarction remains a common, costly problem, with approximately 5 million people undergoing evaluation in emergency departments annually at an estimated cost of over $6 billion.

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association established a committee to develop guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of unstable angina. Under a contract with the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research to assist the committee to evaluate the current ability to predict risk for patients with unstable angina, we performed three systematic reviews.

The first review concerned the value of the electrocardiogram, physical examination, and clinical history in predicting outcome for patients with unstable angina. The second review examined the ability of troponin to predict outcome in patients with proven or suspected unstable angina. The third review examined the efficacy of chest pain units and emergency department protocols in patients who have suspected unstable angina or myocardial infarction.

Search Strategy: We identified published studies (English language) through 1998 by searching the MEDLINE® and EMBASE databases and by manually reviewing the bibliographies of identified articles.

Selection Criteria: For the review of clinical and electrocardiographic predictors of outcome, we restricted our review to only those studies that performed a multivariate analysis of the clinical and/or electrocardiographic predictors of adverse clinical events in patients with either chest pain suggestive of ischemia or diagnosed unstable angina in the emergency department or hospital. For the review of troponin efficacy, we included reports of patient cohorts with unstable angina or suspected unstable angina that noted subsequent myocardial infarction, death, or revascularization. For the review of chest pain units and emergency department protocols, we included trials that were randomized. We also included controlled clinical trials of chest pain protocols used in the emergency department.

Data Collection and Analysis: For the review of troponin studies, we pooled the data using odds ratios and relative risks for outcomes of death, subsequent myocardial infarction, and revascularization. Two independent reviewers abstracted each study.

Main Results: Characteristics of patients with suspected unstable angina that were associated with worse outcomes included advanced age, male sex, prior myocardial infarction, and diabetes. In addition, congestive heart failure, hypertension, and smoking may also be important prognostic factors from the clinical history, but specific descriptors of the chest pain did not provide prognostic information. Data are insufficient at present to determine if rapid bedside troponin tests and laboratory-based measurements provide similar or different prognostic information. Although randomized trials of chest pain units are few, they consistently have shown decreased hospital costs compared with usual care. All studies included in this report apply to adult men and women.

Conclusions: Several patient characteristics and electrocardiographic findings portend a worse prognosis in patients with suspected or diagnosed unstable angina including older age, male sex, past myocardial infarction, diabetes mellitus, and ST depression greater than 0.1 millivolt. Measurement of troponin T or troponin I provides additional independent prognostic information. Additional randomized trials of chest pain units are needed to determine more fully their health and economic benefits.

Download Report

Prediction of Risk for Patients With Unstable Angina

Evidence-based Practice Center: University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)-Stanford
Topic Nominators: American College of Cardiology, American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines

Current as of August 2000


The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


AHRQ Advancing Excellence in Health Care