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Blood test could predict

The ability to diagnose an imminent heart attack has long been considered the Holy Grail of cardiovascular medicine. But scientists have developed a new blood test which might help doctors identify patients at risk of a heart attack, reportsSade Oguntola.

It is not uncommon for someone to suffer a heart attack days after passing a stress test or being told that their chest pain was nothing to worry about. Now scientists have found a clue that may help doctors determine if a heart attack is imminent in the hope of preventing it.

Most heart attacks happen when fatty deposits in an artery burst open, and a blood clot then forms to seal the break. If the clot is too big, it blocks off blood flow. But available tests cannot predict when that is about to happen.

Now, scientists have developed a simple blood test that can predict whether a patient is at risk of an imminent heart attack. The test is based on the finding that individuals with recent heart attack have some unusual cells circulating in their blood.

Experts believe spotting these blood cells that appear to flake off the lining of a severely diseased artery early may show when a high-risk patient is about to have an attack. This would be an ideal test to perform in an emergency room to determine if a patient is on the cusp of a heart attack or about to experience one in the next couple of weeks.

In carrying out the study, which was reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the scientists took blood samples from 50 heart attack patients before they had any artery-disturbing tests or treatments and from 44 healthy volunteers. They measured the level of those cells, deformed ones, floating in the blood of heart attack victims’ and the healthy volunteers.

They found lots of the deformed cells floating in the heart attack victims’ blood, and very little in the healthy people’s blood.
Meanwhile the study couldn’t tell when those abnormal cells first appeared and that’s key. Also, it is not clear how many heart attacks happen too suddenly for any warning period.

But the scientists theorize that plaques break apart gradually and may shed these cells for up to two weeks before the heart attack. They cited autopsy studies that found people’s arteries healed several plaque ruptures before the final one that killed them.
With some additional validation, the scientists hope to have this test become part of a routine health check-up in next year or two.

Available tests are those to detect if a patient is currently experiencing or has recently experienced a heart attack. But the ability to diagnose an imminent heart attack has long been considered the holy grail of cardiovascular medicine. However, medical doctors have long been able to identify risk factors that can put patients at greater danger of heart disease such as high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol, but cannot predict imminent attacks.

In a reaction to the finding, an expert described the finding as interesting, indicating that it represents a new approach to trying to predict who might be at risk of an impending heart attack.However, given that the current study only shows that patients in the throes of a heart attack have abnormal cells, heart experts stated the need for further studies to show that the abnormal cells only appear during a heart attack and are not also present in other illnesses.

Heart disease is a major cause of illness and death and so an improved detection of heart disease can save lives. More so, blood tests have been used for over two decades to detect substances that are present in the blood that indicate either disease or a future risk of the development of a disease.

Blood tests detect substances that normally are not present or measure substances that, when elevated above normal levels, indicate disease. Usually, when individuals report to the hospital with chest discomfort, an initial assessment for a possible heart attack includes Electrocardiograms (ECGs). The ECG is used in the evaluation of patients with chest discomfort but can be normal or not diagnostic in patients with a heart attack (myocardial infarction). Thus, blood will be obtained to check for any heart damage that can be indicated by abnormal protein levels in the blood.

For instance, attention has been focused on a blood test that measures the level of C-reactive protein (CRP). Patients with elevated levels of CRP have an increased risk for heart attack, stroke, sudden death, and vascular disease. Physicians are beginning to  add the measurement of blood CRP levels to other measures of risk to recommend potential options to reduce risk. However, the importance of annual medical check-up cannot be overemphasised in staying healthy. That one seems healthy does not mean the body organs like the heart is. But it is possible to monitor the risk of developing many diseases and take appropriate steps to remain healthy.

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