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Researchers: New Blood Test Could Predict Heart Attack

Researchers say they have developed a simple, new blood test that could predict heart attacks in patients with heart disease. Investigators say the test measures a protein that is elevated when the heart is under stress, even in stable heart disease patients. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

Researchers at the University of California in San Francisco say a protein called NT-proBNP could help predict the risk a future major cardiovascular event, including heart attack, heart failure or stroke in patients with heart disease.

Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo led a study of almost 1,000 heart disease patients and followed them for nearly four years, during which 250 suffered a major cardiovascular event that, in some cases, led to death.

The investigators found that patients with the highest levels of NT-proBNP were nearly eight times more likely to suffer heart attack, stroke, heart failure or death than those who had the lowest levels of the protein.

Bibbins-Domingo and colleagues published their findings in Journal of the American Medical Association.

"What we think is that the blood test that detects NT-proBNP levels can detect the heart that is under stress at very early stages in a way that might be missed by other heart tests that we routinely order," she said.

The researchers also found levels of NT-proBNP were elevated in study participants whose cholesterol, blood pressure and other heart indicators were in the normal range.

Bibbins-Domingo says the elevated protein levels put these seemingly low risk patients in danger of a major cardiovascular event later on.

Marvin Konstam is chief of cardiology at Tufts University Medical Center in Boston.

Konstam says NT-proBNP is present in all people, regardless of whether they have heart disease. So, while the research is promising, Konstam says a test measuring the protein needs refinement.

"I don't think should expect now I can go get this test and have miraculous answers that I didn't have before," he noted. "I think that there's a lot more work that has to be done about really deciding how to best use these biomarkers in conjunction with other indicators to be guide therapy for our patients."

Konstam wrote an editorial on the research in Journal of the American Medical Association.