Researchers from the University of Edinburgh in the U.K. have developed a new highly sensitive blood test that can safely rule out heart attacks in about two-thirds of patients who are evaluated in the emergency department (ED) for chest pain.
Chest pain, one of the major symptoms of a heart attack, makes up a significant proportion of emergency department (ED) attendances. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every 43 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. The condition occurs when a part of the heart muscle does not receive enough blood flow.
Reports indicate that the number of hospital admissions due to chest pain has tripled during the last two decades. The majority of chest pain patients are admitted to the hospital for further assessment. But the overwhelming majority of these patients do not have a heart attack. Current tests employed in hospitals only determine whether the patient suffered from heart attack but cannot predict if they will.
Now the new blood test has changed all that. By ruling out a heart attack, it can save resources and costs on lengthy stays in the ED or hospitalization for repeat testing.
The new test can detect far lower blood levels of troponin, a protein released when heart muscle is damaged. The greater the damage that occurs, the higher blood levels of troponin. An increase in troponin suggests some damage has occurred, while very high levels indicate a person has had a heart attack, the researchers explained.
The lead author of the study says, “These findings could dramatically reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and provide substantial cost savings for healthcare providers,” The test is currently available in Europe, but not in the United States. Further clinical trials are needed to evaluate the test in real-world conditions.