New Heart Test To Save Time, Money, Lives

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A new test could give doctors a head start in diagnosingthose patients most likely to suffer a heart attack.

The test, developed at the University of Leeds, could resultin fewer patients needlessly admitted to hospital - enabling medics toconcentrate on those most needing their help.

Alistair Hall, Professor of Clinical Cardiology at Leeds,explained: "Casualty departments regularly see patients presenting with chestpains. The highest-risk patients are easy to diagnose and are admitted straightaway. Those with no risk of having a heart attack are also easy to spot. It'sthe group in between which is hardest to correctly diagnose. Typically patientsare admitted for 24 hours while the hospital figures out the cause."

The mostcommonly-used diagnostic tool is the troponin test which can detect andevaluate heart injury and separate it from chest pain due to other causes. Essentiallyif troponin proteins are found in the patient's blood, then it indicates aheart problem. But Prof Hall explained that the troponin test can give bothfalse negative and false positive results, meaning some patients areunnecessarily admitted, and others wrongly discharged.

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A new test,developed at Leeds through research funded by the British Heart Foundation,searches for a heart-type fatty acid-binding protein (H-FABP) which is releasedinto the circulation following heart injury (myocardial ischemia). ProfHall said: "The H-FABP test is a major advance on what we had before. Itappears to be able to detect milder and earlier degrees of heart injury than docurrent tests which detect heart cell death."

The team'sfindings are published in the American Journal of Cardiology: "Our papershows that it is possible to be more effective in matching life-savingtreatments to the patients with heart attacks who most likely to benefit fromthem," said Prof Hall.

The testalso enables medics to identify patients whose chest pains are an indicationthat they are susceptible to heart attack in the weeks and months ahead. "Ifyou can pick these problems up in advance you could have a three-month headstart in putting prevention in place," he added.

"Thestudy was conducted in UKin the context of a national health care system that forces hard decisions tobe made regard the best use of limited resources. This blood test, whichwill cost about

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