Cardiology Practice Today – Silent Ischemia: A Clinical Update

Panel: Gabriel A.Valle M.D., LouisLemberg M.D., F.C.C.P.

From the Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine, University of Miami School of Medicine, Miami (1990)

Silent ischemia is a common finding in coronary artery disease and occurs more frequently than painful episodes in the total ischemic burden. Since painless ischemia places limits on the history, it can encourage physicians to spend more time studying and treating the electrocardiogram and less time with patients, potentially leading to a deterioration in doctor-patient relationship and care. Silent ischemia should be considered only in patients 35 years of age or older who: (a) have a strong family history of early coronary artery disease, or (b) have two major coronary risk factors. Verification is made by performing an electrocardiographic exercise stress test and followed by a thallium-201 electrocardiographic stress test when the electrocardiograms are equivocal. In females it is best to proceed directly to a thallium-201 electrocardiographic stress test because of the frequency of false positives on the exercise electrocardiograms. The results will help determine the indications for further studies and subsequently the need for drug or interventional management. Frequently a history in which symptoms of lower esophageal disorders, hiatal hernia, gastric disease and arthritic pains mimic angina or in fact coexist with ischemic heart disease makes the clinical diagnosis of angina more elusive and difficult. However, a careful unhurried history and an exercise stress test can often differentiate the etiology of the chest pains. A 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiographic recording aids in measuring the total ischemic burden. When the diagnosis and severity of the ischemic syndrome is established, a course of medical therapy tailored to the symptoms and with defined end points is initiated. Since silent ischemia and angina frequently coexist, suppression of the frequency and severity of the anginal episodes will also reduce the episodes of silent ischemia. Symptomatic improvement is thus a guide in the treatment of the total ischemic syndrome. Drug management will usually consist of two or more of the following drugs: a nitrate, beta blocker, calcium channel blocker, and aspirin. A 24-hour ambulatory electrocardiographic recording is helpful in assessing the efficacy of medical management of silent ischemia. Failures in drug management should proceed with coronary angiography, and when indicated, followed by percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty or coronary artery bypass graft surgery. (Chest 1990; 97:186-91)