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More sensitive blood test better at identifying heart attacks

March 22, 2011

A highly sensitive blood test could help identify heart attacks in thousands of patients who would otherwise have gone undiagnosed, a study suggests.

The test, which identifies heart muscle damage, detected heart attacks in a third more patients who were admitted to hospital with chest pain than previous tests.

The University of Edinburgh study found that after this test was introduced into clinical practice the risk of being readmitted to hospital with - or dying from - another heart attack within the following year was halved.

Patients were more likely to see a specialist and to receive better treatment following the introduction of the more sensitive test.

When patients are admitted to hospital with chest pain, a blood test is taken that measures a protein - troponin - that is released when heart cells are damaged during a heart attack. Researchers evaluating the more-sensitive test detected troponin at levels four-times lower than the previous standard test, thereby identifying patients with smaller amounts of heart damage.

Dr Nicholas Mills, of the British Heart Foundation Centre for Cardiovascular Science at the University of Edinburgh, said: "Unfortunately, the use of outdated diagnostic thresholds for troponin continues to be widespread and lowering this threshold remains a highly contentious issue amongst doctors. We provide compelling evidence that adopting a more sensitive test and lowering the threshold for detection of heart muscle damage is appropriate and will substantially improve the outcome of patients with chest pain and suspected heart attack."

"The research also shows us that it is not just patients with major heart attacks where treatment can make a difference. Even patients with comparatively minor heart damage benefit from these treatments."

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, analysed data from more than 2,000 patients who had been admitted to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh with chest pain and suspected heart attack.
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University of Edinburgh

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