Simple Blood Test ‘Predicts Heart Attack, Stroke Risk’

A simple blood test can foretell with strong probability a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke and the likelihood cardiovascular disease sufferers will die of their illness, according to a US study published this week.

The research, involving 987 men and women suffering from stable coronary disease, found that a higher level of the protein NT-proBNP in blood meant a higher risk of heart attack, stroke, heart failure or death.

“After adjusting for all other risk factors, it’s clear that this marker is picking up something that we are otherwise unable to detect with standard tests such as echocardiography,” said Mary Whooley, lead investigator and a physician at the San Francisco VA Medical Center in California.

The findings appeared in the January 10 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The NT-proBNP protein is a marker in the blood for the hormone BNP, which “goes up during times of cardiac stretch or stress,” Whooley explained.

“When the heart wall is over-expanded by too much blood volume, or damaged by lack of blood flow to the heart itself, BNP goes up, and NT-proBNP along with it,” she said.

The patients in the study were divided into four groups with varying blood levels of NT-proBNP, and were each followed for an average of 3.7 years.

Twenty-six percent of them died or suffered some level of heart failure during the study.

Patients in the group with the highest levels of NT-proBNP were 3.4 times more likely to die or have a heart attack or stroke than patients with the lowest levels of the biological marker.

Whooley cautioned that the test should only be ordered for patients with known coronary heart disease. For others in seemingly good health, its usefulness is limited, she said.

“It’s much better at predicting risk in a population with a high incidence of heart disease,” she said.

The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a branch of the US National Institutes of Health.

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