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Significance of Cardiac Computed Tomography

Incidental Findings in Acute Chest Pain

Coronary computed tomography angiography might improve the management of patients presenting to the emergency department with acute chest pain; however, noncoronary incidental findings are frequently detected. The prevalence and clinical significance of these findings have not been well described.
Cardiac Computed Tomography


Consecutive patients presenting to the emergency department with acute chest pain and inconclusive initial evaluation between May 2005 and May 2007 underwent 64-slice coronary computed tomography angiography before hospital admission with noncoronary incidental findings immediately reported. An expert panel adjudicated which incidental findings changed in-hospital patient management, and projections for additional testing were based on standard medical practice.


Among 395 patients (37.0% were female, mean age 53 ± 12 years), incidental findings were detected in 44.8% (n = 177): noncalcified pulmonary nodules (n = 94, 23.8%), simple liver cysts (n = 26, 6.6%), calcified pulmonary nodules (n = 16, 4.1%), and contrast-enhancing liver lesions (n = 9, 2.3%). In-hospital management was changed because of incidental finding reporting in 5 patients (1.3%), and a potential alternative diagnosis was offered in another 16 patients (4.1%). Subsequent diagnostic imaging tests were recommended in 81 patients (20.5%), including 74 chest computed tomography scans. After 6 months, biopsy was performed in 3 patients, revealing cancer in 2 (0.5%) who underwent successful tumor resection.


Clinically important findings are detected in up to 5% of patients with a lead symptom of acute chest pain and low to intermediate likelihood of acute coronary syndrome, but only few directly change patient management; 21% are recommended for further imaging tests, resulting in invasive procedures and detection of cancer in few patients.

Am J Med. 2009 Jun;122(6):543-9.


The importance of incidental findings during cardiac CT scans is discussed controversially.

According to the present study, clinically important findings are not that frequent in patients admitted because of acute chest pain.

However, since the image data is available, it appears to be useful to evaluate also non cardiac structures in cardiac CT scans in order not to miss findings of potential importance


The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology.