Blood Test Shows Promise for Gauging Heart Attack Risk After Chest Pain
More study is needed, but the screening method measures levels of a chemical signal tied to heart damage
By Mary Elizabeth Dallas
SUNDAY, March 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Though more study needs to be done, new research suggests that a simple blood test could help predict the heart attack risk of patients experiencing chest pain.
The Swedish study found that patients with chest pain who have undetectable levels of a certain chemical signal in their blood called "high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T," plus no sign of reduced blood flow, are at very low risk for heart attack over the next month.
The authors of the study, which is to be presented Sunday in Washington, D.C., at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, believe the test could help prevent many unnecessary hospital admissions.
"Chest pain is a potentially life-threatening symptom, as well as being a very common one," study lead author Dr. Nadia Bandstein, from the Karolinska Institute in Solna, Sweden, said in a meeting news release. "In our hospital it's the second most common symptom reported in the emergency department. Since there are no established ways to quickly rule out heart attack, many patients are admitted to the hospital unnecessarily, at a large cost to the patient and to society."
According to Bandstein, "using this blood test along with an ECG [electrocardiogram], we will save about 500 to 1,000 admissions per year in our hospital alone, allowing us to use the beds for sicker patients."
Still, more research is required. And experts note that studies presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
As the researchers explained, high-sensitivity cardiac troponin T is a chemical signal in the blood that can help doctors detect heart damage. It is a relatively new factor used to diagnose heart attack and can be detected in the blood several hours before older methods of measuring troponins.
In conducting the study, Bandstein's team analyzed blood levels of this chemical signal in almost 15,000 patients who visited emergency rooms in Sweden from 2010 to 2012. They focused on more than 8,900 patients with undetectable levels of troponin who also had no signs of heart damage from reduced blood flow. These patients averaged 47 years of age.
The researchers then examined how many of these patients went on to suffer a heart attack within 30 days. During that time, only 39 of the patients included in the study had a heart attack, the researchers reported. Of these, 15 had no signs of damage due to reduced blood flow.
Overall, only one in every 594 patients who go to the emergency room for chest pain with no sign of heart damage and undetectable levels of troponin are at immediate risk for heart attack, the researchers calculated.