Heart Test Could Predict Future Attacks in Elderly

A test to measure the heart’s electrical activity could help predict future heart attacks in otherwise healthy adults over 70, according to a study.

Researchers followed 2,192 healthy adults aged 70-79 for a period of eight years, according to the study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The subjects started the study by getting an electrocardiogram, often called an EKG or ECG, which measures the heart’s overall health.

People who showed abnormalities in their EKGs saw a higher risk of heart disease over the course of the study than people whose EKGs were normal, even after researchers adjusted for risk factors like diabetes and high cholesterol.

Those who had minor abnormalities show up on their first test had a 35 percent higher risk of heart attack, while those with major abnormalities had a 51-percent increased risk, said the findings.

“This research is taking the information from an EKG and adding it to other traditional risk factors to better predict who is going to have a heart attack,” said co-author Douglas Bauer, director of the University of California San Francisco Division of General Internal Medicine Research Program.

However, organizations such as the American Academy of Family Physicians do not back routine use of EKGs for cardiac screening in low-risk patients, citing high costs and a lack of evidence that the test would improve health outcomes.

“For the time being, in the absence of clear evidence of benefit and no clear implications for costs, the best advice is not to perform ECGs in asymptomatic patients, regardless of age,” said an accompanying editorial by Philip Greenland of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

“However, a careful and detailed cost-effectiveness analysis would be a useful next step in the translation of the cumulative risk information into an evidence-based practice recommendation.”

Heart disease is the leading killer in the United States, and accounts for one in three deaths, according to the American Heart Association.

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