Blood test could rule out heart attack risk

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By Amy Mitchell-Whittington

A single blood test could help identify which sufferers of chest pain are at a low risk of heart attack, a Queensland researcher says.

The test, which detects very low concentrations of a protein released when the heart muscle is damaged, was tested across more than 20,000 patients worldwide, with about 2000 from Australia.

The blood test could be incorporated into emergency wards to evaluate patients with chest pain.

The blood test could be incorporated into emergency wards to evaluate patients with chest pain.

Photo: Louise Kennerley

University of Queensland Associate Professor Louise Cullen was part of the international collaboration and said the study found less than 0.05 per cent of patients who identified as low risk went on to have a heart attack within 30 days.

“This result is in line with current risk-assessment procedures,” she said.

The test has been available in Australia for two years, however it examines high levels of protein in the blood to detect whether a person has already had a heart attack.

Professor Cullen said the study was based on recent developments of the blood test that allowed the protein troponin I to be detected in much smaller quantities.

“What that has allowed us to do is to look to see whether or not we can get very low values that we previously could not even detect,” she said.

“We found a single test would determine that almost half of patients reporting with cardiac symptoms were at low risk of heart attack or angina.

“These findings are significant given that chest pain is one of the most common reasons people around the world present to hospitals.”

University of Queensland associate professor Louise Cullen.

University of Queensland associate professor Louise Cullen.

Photo: Supplied

Professor Cullen said the test could also cut time spent in emergency wards and reduce patient anxiety.

“The process we evaluate patients with at the moment, for all of them, is we need to do serial blood tests, they have them when they first arrive and then they have them two or six hours later.

“Then we are doing … exercise stress tests or stress echoes or coronary CT angiograms … to try and work out who is got a significant disease.

“The current process is fairly lengthy and of course is costly.

“We looked to see whether or not using the blood test on its own, at a very early time at a very low value, identifies people that we could really stop there and not have to bring them into the hospital for a half a day, a day, to rule out the fact they are not having a heart attack.”

She said the test could give patients the reassurance their symptoms were not a heart attack and give medicos time to look at other causes of patient symptoms.

“The next stage will be looking at changing national guidelines and incorporating it into our clinical care,” she said.

A clinical trial is underway in Scotland.

The study was published in Jama Network.

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