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New Blood Test Could Help Prevent Heart Attack and Stroke

  • Carol Pearson

Scientists can tell by your blood whether you have cancer cells, how well your organs are functioning, and if they've been affected by cancer. Now there’s a new blood test that could help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Jeff Meeusen, Ph.D., developed the test at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Meeusen told VOA in a Skype interview that the test will determine who’s at risk for a heart attack or stroke, "and it seems to have a chance to determine who’s at risk, even accounting for current gold standard tests like LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol." LDL cholesterol is considered the "bad" cholesterol because it becomes part of plaque, the waxy stuff that can clog arteries.

The test measures the amount of ceramides in the blood. Ceramides are waxy molecules strongly linked to cardiovascular disease. They are similar to cholesterol, but unlike cholesterol, they are biologically active.

Meeusen explained that when we start to have cardiovascular risk factors, the ceramide levels build up and then they can promote things like the LDL cholesterol crossing into the vascular wall. Once it’s there, he said, ceramides develop atheroscopic plaque, which causes hardening of the arteries.

"Even if you have a very low LDL cholesterol, this ceramide test is able to identify who is going to be at risk for developing a heart attack or stroke later in life," Meeusen said. Meeusen is a clinical chemist and co‑director of Cardiovascular Laboratory Medicine at the Mayo Clinic.

The test could be used to help patients who have progressing coronary artery disease as well as to find out who is at risk for developing coronary artery disease.

Our physicians are really embracing this new test," Meesen said. "There’s been a need for tests that can help identify those people that are at higher risk, and they’re using this test among individuals that would otherwise seem to be at target, on track. They have good cholesterol. They don’t have too many other risk factors. And yet, if you have an elevated ceramide score, being able to prescribe a statin, or encourage that patient to exercise and diet, is going to prevent these events in the long run."

Meeusen said the test provides an incentive to patients to take better care of their health. What's more, the test is available to doctors and their patients outside the Mayo Clinic hospital network.

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