A new study from researchers at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, funded by the British Heart Foundation, has shown that testing the protein troponin in apparently healthy men can predict whether a patient will go on to have a heart attack.
Troponin is a protein which is released into the blood stream when the heart muscle is under stress. At the moment, the test is used to help identify men and women who are suspected of just having had a heart attack.
The new research looked at 3,300 men with high cholesterol but no history of heart disease. The study showed that men who have elevated levels of troponin in their blood were more likely to have a heart attack or to die of heart disease up to 15 years later. One of the study’s authors, Professor David Newby, said: “Troponin is almost like a barometer of heart health. If it creeps up, that’s bad and your risk of heart problems increases. If it goes down, that’s good…”
The researchers have suggested that the simple and cheap troponin test could be used in addition to current predictors of heart disease such as blood pressure levels and whether a patient smokes to build up a picture of a patient’s risk of heart disease. Some of these patients could then be offered preventive treatment such as statins to lower cholesterol. Another of the study’s authors, Professor Nicholas Mills, said: “Troponin testing will help doctors to identify apparently healthy individuals who have silent heart disease so we can target preventive treatments to those who are likely to benefit most.”
Although the study did not include women, the researchers plan to do more research which will involve female subjects. (Figures show that women are nearly three times as likely to die from coronary heart disease as from breast cancer.)
Camilla Wonnacott, a member of the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “Sadly we regularly deal with claims where heart disease in an apparently healthy individual was not detected in time to avoid serious injury and, sometimes, death. A new, quick and cheap test that could prevent serious heart problems developing in the first place would be very welcome.”