A simple blood test could be used to predict which patients are at risk of heart attack up to 15 years later and determine those who would benefit from statins, according to research.
About seven million people take statins to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, yet there is continuing scientific debate about their effectiveness.
The £5 test, which is currently used to diagnose heart attacks in patients arriving at A&E, has been found to predict accurately the chance of someone suffering an attack in the future.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and University of Glasgow claim that the highly sensitive test, which picks up on damage to the heart muscle, is a more effective way of assessing future heart disease risk than blood pressure or cholesterol.
The study of 3,000 men with high cholesterol but no history of heart disease found that changes in troponin blood levels could predict whether a person was at risk of heart attack or dying of coronary heart disease up to 15 years later.
The test measures the levels of proteins in the blood known as troponin T or troponin I, which are released when the heart muscle has been damaged, as occurs in a heart attack.
Coronary heart disease, which causes heart attacks, accounts for nearly 70,000 deaths in the UK each year. About seven million people take statins regularly to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, yet there is continuing scientific debate about their effectiveness.
The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, suggested that measuring levels of troponin in the blood could determine which patients were responding to the statins used to treat them.
Researchers found that patients whose troponin levels decreased after taking statins had lower risk of heart attack later on compared with those whose troponin levels were unchanged or increased, according to the paper.
However, because the study group consisted of middle-aged men with high blood cholesterol, the researchers said that further work was needed to see if the results were the same for women or men with lower cholesterol.
Professor Nicholas Mills, senior clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, who led the research, said: “Whilst blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure are important and associated with the risk of developing heart disease, troponin is a direct measure of injury to the heart. Troponin testing will help doctors to identify apparently healthy individuals who have silent heart disease so we can target preventative treatments to those who are likely to benefit most.”
Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Before the findings from this research can be clinically applied, the usefulness of measuring troponin findings needs to be demonstrated in a wider group of patients. If this confirms its value, the test could easily be administered by GPs during standard check-ups and could ultimately save lives.”
From The Times 20th December 2016