Article Text

Download PDFPDF

The sensitivity of a normal chest radiograph in ruling out aortic dissection
  1. Kerstin Hogg, Clinical Research Fellow,
  2. Stewart Teece, Clinical Research Fellow
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL, UK;


    A short cut review was carried out to establish the sensitivity of a normal chest radiograph as a rule out test for aortic aneurysm. Altogether 557 papers were found using the reported search, of which four presented the best evidence to answer the clinical question. The author, date and country of publication, patient group studied, study type, relevant outcomes, results, and study weaknesses of these best papers are tabulated. A clinical bottom line is stated

    Statistics from

    Request Permissions

    If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

    Report by Kerstin Hogg, Clinical Research FellowChecked by Stewart Teece, Clinical Research Fellow

    Clinical scenario

    A 52 year old man attends the emergency department with central chest tightness and left arm heaviness. ECG shows anterior ST elevation of 3 mm in three consecutive leads. He has a normal mediastinum on chest radiograph, but as you administer the thrombolytic agent, you wonder just how sensitive this investigation is in ruling out an aortic dissection.

    Three part question

    In a [patient with chest pain] what is the [sensitivity of a normal chest radiograph] in ruling out [aortic dissection]?

    Search strategy

    Medline 1966-11/03 using the OVID interface. [exp Aneurysm, Dissecting OR dissecti$.mp OR] AND [exp AORTA OR exp AORTA, THORACIC OR aort$.mp.] AND [ OR exp X-Rays OR exp Radiography, Thoracic OR radiograph$.mp] LIMIT to human AND English.

    Search outcome

    Altogether 557 papers were found. One recent literature review included the relevant papers with the exception of three additional papers (see table 2).

    Table 2


    All these studies are of poor quality. There is an enormous lack of quality prospective studies recruiting consecutive patients presenting to the emergency department with chest pain.


    The classic chest radiological findings of a wide mediastinum or abnormal aortic contour do not seem sufficiently sensitive to rule out aortic dissection in a patient with chest pain.

    Report by Kerstin Hogg, Clinical Research FellowChecked by Stewart Teece, Clinical Research Fellow