London, UK (BBN) – A simple blood test could identify patients at risk of having a heart attack 15 years in advance, British scientists have discovered.
The £5 test, which takes just 30 minutes to deliver a result, could help doctors spot patients who would benefit from drugs or lifestyle changes that could save their life, reports Daily mail.
Some 188,000 people have heart attacks in Britain each year, and nearly 70,000 die as a result.
Many of these cases are avoidable, with lifestyle factors – particularly drinking, smoking, diet and exercise – having an impact on roughly 85 per cent of cases.
Yet people tend not to take action until they start to suffer warning signs.
When heart muscle is damaged it leaks a protein called troponin in to the blood stream.
A blood test that detects troponin is already used in hospitals to quickly diagnose whether someone has had a heart attack.
But the new study, led by the universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, suggests it the troponin test can also be used to detect the early signs of damage years before someone actually has an attack.
The found the test is particularly good at precisely identifying people who will benefit from cholesterol-busting statins, averting their risk of major cardiovascular disease later in life.
It can also be used to assess how well statins are working – and help doctors find another treatment if the pills are ineffective.
In a trial of 3,000 men with high cholesterol but no history of heart disease, the team found high troponin levels accurately predicted the risk of a person suffering a heart attack up to 15 years later.
Those who tested positive for high troponin levels were 2.3 times more likely to have a heart attack, the researchers found.
But the results, published last night in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, also reinforced the use of statins as a treatment for heart disease.
The scientists found taking a statin pills quickly reduced troponin levels – with striking results.
Those whose troponin levels decreased by 25 per cent had a five-fold lower risk of heart attack.
The test could be used to move patients whose troponin levels did not drop on to a different type of statin, or a completely different type of cholesterol drug.
Study leader Professor Nicholas Mills of the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘These results are tremendously exciting, and could revolutionise the way we manage patients at risk of coronary heart disease.
‘Whilst blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure are important and associated with the risk of developing heart disease, troponin is a direct measure of injury to the heart.
‘Troponin testing will help doctors to identify apparently healthy individuals who have silent heart disease so we can target preventative treatments to those who are likely to benefit most.’
He said more studies are needed – particularly because the trial was only conducted on middle-aged men, with no women included.
But if the results are replicated the test could quickly be rolled out for use by GPs.
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said: ‘The use of troponin tests to determine whether or not a person has had a heart attack when they first arrive at hospital is now firmly established in clinical practice.
‘Now, the hope from this new research is that we may be able to use this simple test earlier on to identify people at higher risk of suffering from a heart attack.
‘Those found to be at higher risk could have their preventative treatments intensified.
‘Before the findings from this research can be clinically applied, the usefulness of measuring troponin findings need to be demonstrated in a wider group of patients.
‘If this confirms its value, the test could easily be administered by GPs during standard check-ups, and could ultimately save lives.’