Every year, millions of people arrive at a hospital’s emergency department complaining of chest pain, but a small percentage of them are actually at risk of having a heart attack. From the University of Edinburgh, scientists have developed a time- and cost-effective blood test to assess a person’s risk of heart attack to save patients and healthcare professionals from conducting excessive diagnostic tests and enduring potentially high healthcare costs.
The new test is based on measuring levels of a protein called troponin in the blood. This protein is released by heart cells when they incur damage. The more troponin, the more likely a person had, is having, or will have a heart attack.
“We believe the findings of this worldwide study will provide national and international guidelines committees with the evidence they need to recommend the use of troponin testing to rule out heart attacks much earlier in the emergency department,” said Dr. Andrew Chapman from the University of Edinburgh.
The test is already used in the UK, but current guidelines for interpreting the results more often than not result in the patient being determined as at “high risk” for a heart attack. In addition to updating guidelines to a version that recommends the troponin test, Chapman and other experts suggest that guidelines for interpreting the results of the test also need to be revised, to limit the number of people who are kept at the hospital for observation and further tests to only those for whom it is truly necessary.
The new test costs just five pounds per patient (6.56 US dollars) and takes only 20 minutes to assess a person’s heart attack risk. In a new study of 23,000 people who complained of chest pain from 19 hospitals across the world, the new test helped scientists define a threshold level of blood troponin levels. Troponin values under this point indicated a low risk of heart attack in the following 30 days and a low likelihood that the patient already had a heart attack recently.
In another study conducted in Scotland, the test successfully predicted the risk of heart attack in more than six thousand emergency room patients.
Fewer than one in five of patients who come to the emergency room because of chest pain are actually having a heart attack, and the new troponin test offers a quick and easy way to determine a person’s true cardiovascular risk quickly after they reach the hospital. This frees up medical professionals to attend to emergencies and prevents patients from paying for tests they don’t need.
The present study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.