Symptoms to Diagnosis

A young man with acute chest pain

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Release date: September 1, 2019
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An 18-year-old man without any significant medical history was transferred from another hospital for higher-level care after presenting with unremitting chest pain. He had been in his usual state of good health until 7 days before presentation, when he developed mild rhinorrhea and a sore throat, but not a cough. He went to an outpatient clinic, where a rapid test for group A streptococci was done; the result was negative, and he was sent home on supportive measures.

On the day of admission, he awoke with severe, pressure-like, midsternal, nonradiating pain, which he rated 10 on a scale of 10. The pain intensified in the supine position and improved with sitting. A complete review of systems was otherwise negative. He denied having had similar symptoms in the past, as well as sick contacts, recent travel, toxin exposure, illicit substance abuse, pets at home, or tick bites. His family history was negative for cardiac arrhythmias, premature coronary artery disease, thoracic aneurysms or dissection, and infiltrative disorders. His surgical and social histories were unremarkable. He said he had no drug allergies.

 Figure 1. The patient’s electrocardiogram on presentation shows ST-segment elevation (arrows) over the lateral and inferior distribution (V4–V6, II, III, and aVF).

Figure 1. The patient’s electrocardiogram on presentation shows ST-segment elevation (arrows) over the lateral and inferior distribution (V4–V6, II, III, and aVF).

An electrocardiogram was obtained (Figure 1). His troponin I level was 7.0 ng/mL (reference range < 0.04 ng/mL).

On examination, his temperature was 38.1°C (100.6°F), heart rate 101 beats per minute, blood pressure 142/78 mm Hg, respiratory rate 16 breaths per minute, and oxygen saturation 98% on room air. He appeared anxious but was in no acute distress. Neck examination showed no elevation in jugular venous pulsation, bruits, thyromegaly, or lymphadenopathy. Cardiac examination revealed tachycardia without murmurs, rubs, or gallops. Lungs were clear to auscultation. Examination of all 4 extremities found 2+ pulses (on a scale of 0 to 4+) throughout and no cyanosis, clubbing, or edema. Abdominal, neurologic, and dermatologic examinations were unremarkable.

Further blood testing revealed the following:

  • Troponin I (3 hours after the first level) 15.5 ng/mL
  • B-type natriuretic peptide 200 mg/dL (reference range 0–100 mg/dL)
  • C-reactive protein 0.9 mg/dL (reference range 0.0–0.8 mg/dL)
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate 10 mm/h (reference range < 15 mm/h).

Metabolic and hematologic assessments were unremarkable. A toxicology screen for drugs of abuse was negative. Viral serologic testing was not done.

A chest radiograph showed no acute cardiopulmonary processes.

Given his presenting symptoms, persistent tachycardia, rapidly rising troponin I level, and electrocardiogram showing diffuse ST elevation, he was taken for urgent cardiac catheterization. Coronary angiography revealed no evidence of atherosclerotic disease, acute thrombosis, dissection, or aneurysm. Echocardiography 2 hours after the procedure showed a normal ejection fraction and no regional wall-motion abnormalities or valvular heart disease.

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