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Blood Tests Could Identify Early ‘Silent’ Heart Disease

Researchers measure molecules released by damaged heart (Sept. 24)

According to a September 24 announcement, researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland have found that a combination of blood tests could effectively pick up “silent” heart disease in thousands of people.

The blood tests are currently used to confirm heart disease in patients who have obvious symptoms. The new research, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, shows that using this combination of blood tests earlier could detect early heart disease before symptoms develop.

In the early stages of heart disease, there is low-level damage to the heart but no symptoms. If people with low-level heart damage could be identified before they develop symptoms, they could be given treatments to prevent future events, such as a heart attack or sudden cardiac death. The lack of early detection for most forms of heart disease means the first sign that a patient has a problem is often sudden cardiac death, even though silent heart disease can have been present for many years beforehand.

Between 40% and 50% of people who experience sudden cardiac death die before being diagnosed with heart disease.

The researchers looked at 300 people with high blood pressure or high cholesterol. They used blood tests for two molecules — high-sensitivity troponin and B-type natriuretic peptide — that are released by the heart when the organ is damaged or under stress. Both tests are currently used in the diagnosis of more obvious, developed heart disease.

Of the 300 participants in the study, 102 (34%) turned out to have silent heart disease. The researchers confirmed that patients with positive blood tests actually had silent heart disease by carrying out heart scans in all 300 patients.

The next step for the Scottish researchers is to calculate which patients could benefit most from their blood tests for silent heart disease. As with any cost-effective screening program, testing will be appropriate only for certain groups. For example, screening could be done for people with risk factors, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol; for those with a family history of heart disease; or for men over 50 years of age.

For more information, visit the University of Dundee Web site.

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