Blood Test May Detect Heart Damage Years Before Symptoms Appear
Test May Soon Help Doctors Spot Early Heart Failure
Lowering Troponin T Levels May Lower Heart Risks
In the second study, of more than 4,000 adults over age 65, two-thirds had detectable levels of troponin T on the highly sensitive test, even though they had no history of heart failure.
“There are very low levels of troponin in seemingly normal people,” says study author Christopher R. deFilippi, MD, a cardiologist and associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. “That’s the scary thing about this scenario. Our study participants were older, but they had none of the traditional risk factors.”
And as in the previous study, deFilippi and his team found that the higher a person’s troponin T level, the greater their risk of developing heart failure or dying from heart disease.
Over an average follow-up of about 12 years, people with the highest levels had a fourfold greater risk of developing heart failure and a threefold greater risk of dying of cardiovascular problems, compared to those with undetectable levels.
In contrast to the previous study, deFilippi and his team repeated the troponin T test every two to three years, so they were able to see how study participants fared if their levels changed over time. Those whose levels were detectable at the beginning and increased by 50% or more had about a 60% increased risk of developing heart failure or dying compared with those whose levels remained stable.
Study participants who saw their levels drop by at least 50%, on the other hand, had about a 30% drop in their risk of heart failure or death, suggesting that there may be ways people can change their troponin T levels and influence their fate.
If further research confirms his results, deFilippi says he thinks the highly sensitive troponin tests would be a cost-effective, patient-friendly way to catch chronic disease.
“It’s not a big MRI or a CT scan you have to get into,” deFilippi says. “The test runs on the same equipment labs currently use and the cost is no different. I think it’s about $12.”