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Heart Disease Health Center

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Skin Test May ID Heart Attack, Stroke Risk

Patients Can Get Quick Results in the Doctor's Office
WebMD Health News

March 7, 2005 (Orlando, Fla.) -- For people who are needle-shy, a new skin test may provide needed information about cholesterol levels. The test can identify people at risk for stroke and heart attacks but who have no symptoms.

James H. Stein, who studied the skin test, tells WebMD that it is not intended to replace the blood cholesterol test, "but it is a way to bring heart disease risk assessment back into the doctor's office."

He says when doctors suspect patients may be at risk for atherosclerosis, "they are sent out for more studies and further risk assessment." Atherosclerosis is narrowed and hardened blood vessels caused by the buildup of cholesterol-rich plaque in vessel walls. When atherosclerotic plaque dislodges it blocks blood flow and results in heart attacks and strokes.

Within minutes the skin test will provide information about the patient's risk for atherosclerosis. The doctor can then sit with the patient and discuss strategies to reduce cholesterol, he says.

The results of studies on the skin test, called PREVU marketed by McNeil Consumer Health Care, were presented Monday at the American College of Cardiology 2005 Scientific Session.

Traditional blood cholesterol tests measure total cholesterol: "bad" LDL cholesterol, 'good' HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends having a total cholesterol level below 200.

"This [skin] test doesn't have a number that correlates to the blood levels of cholesterol," says Stein. Instead it measures the total cholesterol, called sterol, found in skin cells.

Quick Results Bring Fast Advice

The test uses a rectangular foam pad -- smaller than a credit card -- that is placed on the palm of the hand. The pad has three wells into which liquid is added. "When one of the wells changes color to indicate sterol level," he says, an electronic meter or wand passed over the pad "reads" the color change as a specific sterol level.

He says the test is approved by the FDA for sale in the U.S. and is also sold in Canada and Europe. The cost to the patient, he says, is about $25 to $30.

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