The sensitivity and specificity of the caffeine-halothane contracture test

Gregory C. Allen, Marilyn Green Larach, Allen R. Kunselman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

181 Scopus citations


Background: The caffeine-halothane contracture test (CHCT) is the only recognized laboratory test to diagnose malignant hyperthermia (MH). The authors report the results of their analysis of pooled data from the North American Malignant Hyperthermia Registry database to determine the sensitivity and specificity of the CHCT. Methods: The MH clinical Grading Scale was used to identify 32 case subjects who were 'almost certain' to be MH susceptible based on clinical criteria alone. Their CHCT results were compared with those of a group of 120 control subjects considered to be at low risk for MH. Diagnostic thresholds of the CHCT were adjusted, and its component tests were combined to generate receiver operating characteristic curves. The maximal Youden index for each component test was chosen as the diagnostic threshold indicative of MH susceptibility. Results: The highest sensitivity (97%; 95% CI, 84-100%) was achieved with a two-component test with thresholds of ≤0.5 g contracture for 3% halothane, ≤ 0.3 g contracture at 2 mM caffeine, or both, considered positive for MH. The test specificity was 78% (95% CI, 69-85%). The addition of other CHCT component tests did not improve CHCT sensitivity or specificity. Conclusion: The CHCT achieves high sensitivity and acceptable specificity as a clinical laboratory diagnostic test when it is performed according to published standards. However, it cannot be used as a screening test because of the low prevalence of MH in the general population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-588
Number of pages10
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1998

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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