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Cardiac Syndrome X

Diagnosis, Pathogenesis and Management

Abstract

Patients with cardiac syndrome X (typical chest pain and normal coronary arteriograms) represent a heterogeneous syndrome, which encompasses different pathogenic mechanisms. Although symptoms in most patients with cardiac syndrome X are non-cardiac, a sizable proportion of them have angina pectoris due to transient myocardial ischemia. Thus radionuclide myocardial perfusion defects, coronary sinus oxygen saturation abnormalities and pH changes, myocardial lactate production and stress-induced alterations of cardiac high energy phosphate suggest an ischemic origin of symptoms in at least a proportion of patients with cardiac syndrome X. Microvascular abnormalities, caused by endothelial dysfunction, appear to be responsible for myocardial ischemia in patients with cardiac syndrome X. Endothelial dysfunction is likely to be multifactorial in these patients and it is conceivable that risk factors such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes mellitus and smoking can contribute to its development. Most patients with cardiac syndrome X are postmenopausal women and estrogen deficiency has been therefore proposed as a pathogenic factor in female patients. Additional factors such as abnormal pain perception may contribute to the pathogenesis of chest pain in patients with angina pectoris and normal coronary angiograms. Although prognosis is good regarding survival, patients with cardiac syndrome X have an impaired quality of life. Management of this syndrome represents a major challenge to the treating physician. Understanding the mechanism underlying the condition is of vital importance for patient management. Thus diagnostic tests should aim at identifying the cause of the symptoms in the individual patient, i.e. myocardial ischemia, increased pain perception, abnormalities of adrenergic tone, non-cardiac mechanisms, etc. Moreover, it is important to bear in mind that treatment of cardiac syndrome X should be mainly directed towards improving quality of life, as prognosis is usually good in these patients. Conventional antianginal agents such nitrates, calcium channel antagonists, β-adrenoceptor antagonists and nicorandil are effective particularly in patients in whom chest pain and ECG changes are clearly suggestive of myocardial ischemia and in those with objective documentation of ischemia. Angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors have been shown to be useful in syndrome X patients with increased adrenergic tone, borderline systemic hypertension, and those with documented endothelial dysfunction. Analgesic interventions of different sorts have been proposed based on the hypothesis that somatic and visceral perception of pain is altered in cardiac syndrome X patients. Pharmacological agents such as imipramine and aminophylline, and neural electrical stimulation techniques have been assessed in recent years with encouraging results. Psychological treatment, particularly cognitive therapy, appears to be useful in defined patient subsets. Relaxation techniques such as transcendental meditation have been successfully used in small studies and shown to improve not only chest pain but also exercise-induced ST segment changes. Reports indicate that these techniques improve quality of life.

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Acknowledgements

G. Aldama and J. Cosin-Sales are recipients of research scholarships from the Spanish Society of Cardiology. The authors have provided no information on conflicts of interest directly relevant to the content of this review.

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Correspondence to Dr Juan Carlos Kaski.

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Kaski, J.C., Aldama, G. & Cosin-Sales, J. Cardiac Syndrome X. Am J Cardiovasc Drugs 4, 179–194 (2004). https://doi.org/10.2165/00129784-200404030-00005

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Keywords

  • Chest Pain
  • Nicorandil
  • Left Bundle Branch Block
  • Calcium Channel Antagonist
  • Spinal Cord Stimulation