Scientists have found that a simple blood test can warn doctors of when a heart patient’s condition is about to deteriorate.
The Journal of the American Medical Association reports that the test, for a protein called NT-proBNP, indicates when the heart is under stress.
A US study of 987 men and women with stable coronary heart disease found those with higher levels of the protein were more likely to suffer a heart attack, stroke or heart failure, and were at greater risk of dying.
It found that patients with the highest levels of NT-proBNP were almost eight times more at risk than those in the group with the lowest levels.
Dr Mary Whooley, from the University of California at San Francisco, who took part in the research, said the test would be useful for monitoring patients with known heart disease.
Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘This is an interesting study since it shows that measuring BNP (brain-type natriuretic peptide) may be useful as a test to identify heart patients at high risk of heart failure.
‘However, there is little long-term benefit in measuring BNP if it doesn’t lead to effective treatment. Research is now needed to find out if treating people with high BNP levels significantly alters their outlook.’
A spokesman for the British Heart Foundation said: ‘This blood test could be another valuable tool which can be used by clinicians to identify an individual’s risk of having a stroke.
‘However, high blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke, affecting 34 per cent of men and 30 per cent of women. It is vital that people get their blood pressure measured regularly as it usually has no symptoms.
‘Forty percent of all strokes could be prevented by controlling high blood pressure – as many as 50,000 strokes a year in the UK.
‘Every five minutes someone in the UK has a stroke and having your blood pressure measured along with controlling other lifestyle factors such as stopping smoking, exercising and eating healthily can help to reduce the risk of stroke.’