The University Record, February 7, 1994

Medical Center opens nation’s first multidisciplinary chest pain center

By Margo Schneidman
Medical Center Public Relations

The Medical Center has opened the nation’s first multidisciplinary center dedicated to diagnosing chest pain. The Chest Pain Center is designed to catch patients in the early stages of a heart attack, and weed out those suffering from chest pain that may have other physical or psychological causes.

“Patients with chest pain present a diagnostic dilemma for emergency physicians because the pain can be caused by many different disease processes,” explains William G. Barsan, professor of surgery and head of Emergency Medicine. “It is important that the life-threatening ones be recognized immediately and treated.”

Studies have shown that up to 25 percent of patients who rush to emergency departments with crushing chest pain, yet who test negative for heart disease after a cardiac catheterization, are in fact suffering from the heart attack-like symptoms of a panic attack. And because the causes of chest pain can be so difficult to ferret out, an estimated 5 percent of patients who have been sent home from a typical emergency room actually do have a potentially fatal heart condition.

“Until now, patients with a questionable diagnosis have either been admitted or sent home with trepidation,” Barsan says.

The Chest Pain Center was created to catch this errant 5 percent, and to more efficiently distinguish between patients suffering from a life-threatening heart condition and those suffering from other illnesses.

Patients with chest pain of unclear origin are placed in a special observation area where they are connected to monitors that detect minute changes in the heart’s electrical system. All patients will undergo a heart stress test and will be screened for gastrointestinal problems and anxiety disorder. If either of these conditions are found to be the cause, gastroenterologists and psychiatrists are on hand at all times to treat the patients and provide referrals.

“If cardiac disease is not found,” Barsan explains, “we will have a good idea of what the problem is and we will provide patients with the appropriate referrals and may start them on medications right away.”

According to Barsan, the clinic provides a much more cost-effective means of evaluating chest pain patients: an eight-hour stay in the center will cost only one-fifth as much as an unnecessary hospital admission.

The Chest Pain Center, located within the Emergency Department at Univer-sity Hospital, is open 24 hours per day. Barsan emphasizes that anyone suffering from chest pain should call 911 immediately.