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Heart Disease Health Center

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Use of CT Scans, MRIs on the Rise in ER

Advanced Medical Imaging Is an Increasingly Popular Diagnostic Tool for Patients With Chest and Abdominal Pain
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Sept. 8, 2010 -- Advanced medical imaging is increasingly being used to evaluate emergency room patients complaining of chest or abdominal pain, the CDC says in a new report.

For chest pain, advanced techniques such as CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) increased 367% in the 1999-2008 period, study author Farida Bhuiya, MPH, tells WebMD.

And the same techniques used on ER patients with abdominal pain have increased 122.6%.

“This really stood out to us,” Bhuiya says. “Is this increase in medical imaging helping us narrow down serious visits and weeding out those that are not as serious, or is imaging being used in excess? We don’t know the answer to that, but we kind of put it out there.”

NCHS Data Brief

The report, the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics’ Data Brief No. 43 for September 2010, says CT scans and MRIs may help doctors rule out or diagnose serious medical conditions, leading to more effective and efficient treatment.

The report also finds that in the same 1999-2008 period:

  • The percentage of emergency room visits for which chest pain was the primary cause decreased 10%. The percentage of ER visits for chest pain that resulted in a diagnosis of acute coronary syndrome decreased 44.9%, from 23.6% in 1999 to 13% in 2007-2008.
  • The number of emergency room visits for chest pain was 5 million in 1999-2000, and 5.5 million in 2007-2008.
  • The number of non-injury ER visits in which abdominal pain was the main complaint increased 31.8%, from 5.3 million to 7 million.
  • The overall number of non-injury emergency room visits rose 22.1%, from 50.5 million in the 1999-2000 period to 61.7 million in 2007-2008.

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