Non-Cardiac Chest Pain: The Long-Term Natural History and Comparison With Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Williams, Jonathan F.; Sontag, Stephen J.; Schnell, Thomas; Leya, Jack
September 2009
American Journal of Gastroenterology;Sep2009, Vol. 104 Issue 9, p2145
Academic Journal
OBJECTIVES:The source of most cases of non-cardiac chest pain (NCCP) is thought to be the esophagus. We reasoned that if the origin of NCCP is truly esophageal and not cardiac, the characteristics and survival of individuals with NCCP should be similar to those of individuals with benign esophageal disease, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The aim of this study was to compare the characteristics, natural history, and long-term survival of two well-defined groups, NCCP patients and GERD patients.METHODS:From 1984 to 1996, patients with NCCP were referred for endoscopy by the cardiology service after a coronary angiography done for chest pain was reported by the cardiologist as negative. Patients with GERD were referred for endoscopy for one of the usual symptoms of acid reflux. The baseline endoscopy and referrals occurred in the pre-proton pump inhibitor (PPI) era, before and during the availability of only the histamine receptor antagonists (HRAs). Thus, the endoscopic findings reflected the untreated natural state of the gastrointestinal mucosa. Endoscopic exams, esophageal biopsy, endoscopic anatomy mapping, and data verification were carried out in the endoscopy lab by one of three endoscopists using predefined criteria. All results were recorded both by hand and by entry into a database storage program. Patients were followed by their primary care providers in their usual outpatient general medicine clinics. The Veterans Affairs Decentralized Hospital Computer Program (VA DHCP) storage system provided access to mortality data as well as details of all prescriptions filled since 1985.RESULTS:During the 12-year enrollment period, 1,218 patients in the GERD group and 161 in the NCCP group were referred for endoscopy. The follow-up period ranged from 1–22 years (mean 9.8 years). The groups were similar in age, gender, smoking and alcohol habits, and use of aspirin and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) (P=NS), but there was a greater proportion of blacks in the NCCP group (P<0.003). In every parameter, NCCP patients had a significantly lower prevalence of GERD-related findings such as endoscopic esophagitis (P<0.0001), Barrett's metaplasia (P=0.02), the development of esophageal adenocarcinoma, and hiatal hernia presence (P=0.0001). In patients with hiatal hernia, the size of the hernia was similar in both groups (P=0.94). In the NCCP group compared with the GERD group, there was a significantly higher prevalence of cardiac factors, such as coronary artery disease (P=0.03), and there was a trend toward greater cardiac clinic enrollment (P=0.08) and cardiac medication usage (P=0.06). The amount and duration of anti-GERD therapy, such as HRAs and PPIs, were significantly less in the NCCP group (P=0.0001 for PPIs and P=0.0002 for HRAs). The diagnosis of NCCP disappeared from the electronic hospital record in 96% of patients within 2 years of follow-up. There was no significant difference in survival between the GERD and NCCP groups (hazard ratio=1.1; CI=0.8–1.5); however, longer duration of follow-up in those with a greater number of events may make a difference in survival.CONCLUSIONS:NCCP in most patients seems to be a short-lived event requiring extensive medical evaluation and having clinical characteristics significantly different from those associated with GERD. Patients with NCCP, confirmed by the absence of angiogram-documented coronary artery disease, who are referred for diagnostic endoscopy, have an excellent long-term benign prognosis, similar to patients with GERD.


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