Blood Test Warns of Heart Failure Risk Years in Advance


Tiny amounts of a protein called troponin T, detected in a blood test, can warn people of heart failure risk up to 15 years in advance. This new blood test could alert people to change their lifestyle years before heart failure symptoms appear and save lives.

The blood test catches heart failure before it develops

Early diagnosis and treatment of heart failure can improve the quality of life and life expectancy of people with the disease. However, if individuals with the potential for heart failure can be identified up to 15 years before the disease has a chance to develop, lives could be saved.

The new blood test is the first to provide an indication of a person’s risk of heart failure. According to Professor Christopher deFilippi, the study’s head researcher, “We found that the higher the level of troponin, the greater the individual was at risk for symptoms of heart failure or death from cardiovascular disease over the next 10 to 15 years.”

Overall, the researchers found that individuals with the highest levels of troponin T were four to five times more likely to develop heart failure than individuals with the lowest levels detected.

To arrive at their conclusions, researchers at the University of Maryland evaluated more than 4,000 individuals who had participated in the Cardiovascular Health Study, which began in 1989. At the time the individuals entered the study, they had no signs of heart problems or acute illness.


The participants had provided a blood sample every two to three years, which were frozen and then thawed out in 2010, after the new test had been developed. All the individuals were followed for an average of 12 years to identify who developed heart-related conditions.

Researchers discovered that individuals with high levels of troponin T were at increased risk of heart failure even if they did not have the traditional risk factors for the disease, which include smoking and high blood pressure. They also noted that people whose troponin levels declined over time seemed to reduce their risk of developing heart failure, but that the risk rose among individuals whose troponin levels also rose.

Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump a sufficient amount of blood and oxygen to nourish the other organs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 5.8 million people in the United States have heart failure, and 670,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. About 20 percent of people with heart failure die within one year of their diagnosis.

The most common causes of heart failure are coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, conditions that can be largely prevented or significantly reduced with lifestyle changes, including healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking, and stress management. Such efforts would not only save lives, it could also put a big dent in the $39.2 billion heart failure will cost the United States in 2010.

The new blood test that can warn of heart failure risk is potentially “very useful,” according to Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation. He cautioned, however that “further studies are needed to determine whether this test can be used successfully to help intervention and treatment of heart failure, and ultimately reduce future risk.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
deFilippi CR et al. JAMA 2010 November 15, published online