Heart health measured with a simple blood test

February 8, 2018 by Nancy Bazilchuk, ScienceNordic
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Researchers have discovered a new indicator that measures the risk of future heart disease. High levels of this substance, called troponin, can identify people at risk.

It's long been the holy grail of cardiac researchers: a simple blood test that can predict who is at greatest risk of developing disease. Cholesterol and C-reactive protein levels have long been used as proxies for this ideal indicator.

But two new studies document how individuals with heart disease had high levels of a protein, , in their blood long before they had symptoms, compared to individuals who did not have heart disease.

The studies also show that an increase of troponin over time indicates an increase in the risk of heart disease.

A sign of disease

Doctors have long tested the blood levels of troponin in people who come to a hospital with chest pain to determine if they are having a .

"This is a well-known marker for heart disease," says Magnus Nakrem Lyngbakken, a researcher at the University of Oslo (UiO) and Ahus, the Akershus University Hospital.

However, levels of this protein also vary in healthy people in the population.

Tested 9000 Norwegians

Researchers at UiO and Ahus relied on from several studies conducted by the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study. HUNT, as it is called after its Norwegian acronym, is one of the largest population-based health surveys ever conducted. The researchers used information from HUNT to look for early signs heart disease risk, using methods that are different than those used in hospital clinics today.

None of the participants had symptoms of heart disease when blood samples were collected during HUNT2, which was carried out from 1995-1997, and HUNT3, which was carried out from 2006-2008.

Frozen blood samples from over 9000 participants were thawed and tested for troponin.

Participants' blood samples were divided into three groups, based on whether they had low, moderate or high values of the protein.

330 died of heart disease

The researchers then compared these findings with records of hospitalizations and deaths until 2010. By that time, roughly 8 per cent of the participants had had a heart attack or .

Of the participants, 330 had died from heart disease, 270 had had a heart attack, and 135 had been hospitalized with heart failure.

Among these three groups, many more had high as early as 14 years previous to their diagnosed illness compared to individuals who did not develop heart disease.

None of the participants were known to have symptoms of heart disease when the blood tests were first taken.

The common denominator

Troponin appears to be a common denominator for various factors, such as and high cholesterol.

"It is a protein that is likely created by low grade heart failure. But we still do not know why people with heart disease have a higher levels of the protein many years before there is evidence of heart disease, compared to those without heart disease, "said Lyngbakken.

Better than measuring cholesterol

The researchers found that troponin levels are more likely to predict who is at risk of heart disease than more familiar measurements such as C-reactive protein.

Troponin also appears to be a better predictor of future heart disease than high levels of dangerous cholesterol, according to the study.

Nevertheless, age, diabetes and high pressure that require medical treatment are even stronger predictors of future heart disease than troponin levels.

Preventative treatment a goal

Currently, troponin levels can only be tested in hospitals.

But scientists hope that a test can be developed so your GP can determine who is most at risk of future heart disease.

"These people can then be offered preventive treatment," says Fjola Sigurdardottir, a Ph.D. candidate at UiO and Ahus whose dissertation focuses on troponin and .

Explore further: Troponin linked to increased risk of death

More information: Cardiac Troponin I Provides Superior Prognostic Information to C-Reactive Protein in the General Population: Data From The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study. Circulation. circ.ahajournals.org/content/1 … 343/tab-article-info

Temporal Changes in Cardiac Troponin I and Risk ofCardiovascular Events in the General Population: The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study. Circulation. circ.ahajournals.org/content/136/Suppl_1/A14527

Related Stories

Troponin linked to increased risk of death

November 3, 2017
A blood test that measures the presence of heart specific proteins called troponins is used by A&E hospitals to diagnose myocardial infarction in patients with chest pain. But even normal levels of the protein in patients ...

A simple blood test could help identify people at risk of a heart attack, a study has found

December 21, 2016
Research shows the troponin test – currently used to help diagnose a heart attack – could be used to assess future heart disease risk.

Heart test changes could save lives

April 25, 2017
New advice for doctors could prevent almost 3000 heart attacks being missed each year, Edinburgh researchers say. They have called for the guidelines on using blood tests to diagnose heart attacks to be urgently implemented ...

Higher risk of dying due to heart cell damage without any symptoms occurs during or after non-heart surgery

December 4, 2017
Surgery that doesn't involve the heart may cause damage to the heart in people with known or at high risk of developing heart disease and was associated with an increased risk of death, according to new research in the American ...

New blood test for diagnosing heart attacks: A 'big deal,' with caveats

January 16, 2018
When diagnosing a heart attack, accuracy and timing are everything.

New heart attack test could save NHS millions of pounds every year

September 29, 2017
A revolutionary new blood test for detecting a heart attack could speed up diagnosis and save the NHS millions of pounds every year, according to new research funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

Recommended for you

Genomic autopsy can help solve unexplained cardiac death

August 15, 2018
Molecular autopsies can reveal genetic risk factors in young people who unexpectedly die, but proper interpretation of the results can be challenging, according to a recent study published in Circulation.

Neonatal pig hearts can heal from heart attack

August 15, 2018
While pigs still cannot fly, researchers have discovered that the hearts of newborn piglets do have one remarkable ability. They can almost completely heal themselves after experimental heart attacks.

Fifty percent of cardiovascular patients suffer from multiple diseases

August 15, 2018
New research led by The University of Western Australia has revealed that one in two patients admitted to hospital with a cardiovascular disease is suffering from multiple chronic medical conditions which required complex ...

Innovative triple pill significantly lowers blood pressure, study finds

August 14, 2018
A new low dose three in one pill to treat hypertension could transform the way high blood pressure is treated around the world.

Drug repurposing study sheds light on heart disease risk

August 14, 2018
A team led by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital has developed a computational technique to reveal the unknown side effects—both good and bad—of hundreds of drugs. That knowledge could help pharmacologists discover ...

Rethinking the stroke rule 'time is brain'

August 13, 2018
In 1993, neurologist Camilo R. Gomez, MD, coined a phrase that for a quarter century has been a fundamental rule of stroke care: "Time is brain!"


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.