Furthermore, patients fared the same in the month after their ER visit regardless of how the hospital evaluated them for chest pain. No heart attacks were missed, and no one died.
Those given CT scans had nearly triple the amount of radiation — about 14 millisieverts (a measure of dose) versus less than 5 millisieverts for the others, some of whom received tests requiring less radiation.
"Exposures of 10 millisieverts have been projected to lead to 1 death from cancer per 2,000 persons," Redberg wrote in her editorial.
"Equally alarming, the testing may lead to an increased risk of breast cancer among these patients, many of whom are middle-aged women."
Radiation risks are a growing concern — Medicare's HospitalCompare website recently started adding information on inappropriate radiation exposure rates at the hospitals it tracks.
Many study authors have consulted for imaging device makers and radiology groups.
A much larger study comparing CT scans and other tests for evaluating heart risks in 10,000 patients is under way now, but it won't provide answers for several years.
In the meantime, a patient's gender, age, and history of chest pain or other illnesses such as diabetes go a long way toward predicting risk as long as the initial EKG and blood work suggest no problem, Redberg contends.
"With no evidence of benefit and definite risks, routine testing in the emergency department of patients with a low-to-intermediate risk...should be avoided," she wrote. "The question is not which test leads to faster discharge of patients from the emergency department, but whether a test is needed at all."
Heart test info:
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.