Previous studies of childhood chest pain have been retrospective or considered only limited age groups or referred patients. In this study, all children who were admitted to the emergency department with chest pain were evaluated prospectively. Patients with ill-defined chest pain had ECGs and echocardiograms performed. A total of 407 children were evaluated. The most common causes of the pain were idiopathic (21%) and musculoskeletal (15%). Cardiac problems were found in 4%. Chest pain was acute (of <48 hours' duration) in 43% and chronic (of >6 months' duration) in 7%. Pain caused 30% of children to stay out of school and 31% to awaken from sleep. Chest wall tenderness was the most common abnormality. ECGs were obtained in 47%; results of 31/191 were abnormal but only 4/191 ECG abnormalities were related to the diagnosis. Echocardiograms were obtained in 34%; results of 17/139 were abnormal (12/139 showed mitral valve prolapse). Young children are more likely to have cardiorespiratory problems; children older than 12 years of age are more likely to have psychogenic pain. The description and location of the pain and the patient's sex are not related to the diagnosis. Nonorganic disease is related to a family history of heart disease or chest pain or having chronic pain. Organic disease is related to pain of acute onset, abnormal physical examination results, pain that awakens the child from sleep, and the presence of fever. Laboratory tests are rarely helpful in evaluating children with chest pain. Chest pain in children is usually benign. Psychogenic pain and idiopathic pain are less common than previously believed.
- Received July 20, 1987.
- Accepted November 9, 1987.
- Copyright © 1988 by the American Academy of Pediatrics