heart attackWhile people who have certain lifestyle diseases or genetic factors that predispose them to heart attacks or heart disease may have inkling that there is a possibility that they can suffer from a heart attack, others do not. Unless current diagnostic procedures are used after a patient suffers from angina or any significant event, there has been no definitive way to tell whether the person is at increased risk of actually suffering from a heart attack. Existing and currently used blood test may point to inflammation among other factors that are actually common to many diseases. However, now two new tests may be more accurate in checking out the heart attack risks and may even be able to predict possible heart attacks.

 Blood test to assess heart attack risk

A team of researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California, led by Peter Kuhn, used a new procedure called High-Definition Circulating Endothelial Cell (HD-CEC) assay to look for endothelial cells in the blood. These cells proliferate in the patient’s blood stream because of increased plaque buildup in the arteries that may rupture and result in inflammation.

They researched a group comprising 79 people who already had heart disease and were receiving treatment and 25 healthy controls. These people were patients at various Scripps facilities. Using the HD-CEC assay, the researchers were able to detect which patients had heart problems and which ones were healthy as endothelial cells in heart disease patients were high. Endothelial cells are found in arterial walls and if the plaque ruptures, these go into the blood stream. Rupturing of the plaque is a possible sign on an impending heart attack. These cells were identified with high sensitivity and high specificity and were accurate in differentiating between the two groups. This study called Fluid phase biopsy for detection and characterization of circulating endothelial cells in myocardial infarction was published in Physical Biology on January 9, 2014.

Using this test, it may be possible to predict in how much time the patient will have a heart attack – a matter of day or weeks. Of the people featuring in the study, the researchers were able to identify those who suffered heart attacks 100 percent of the time and that is why this test appears to be definitive.

Another blood test to assess heart attack risk

Dr. Stanley Hazen of the Cleveland Clinic led a study featuring 4,000 patients with suspected heart disease over three years. The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in November, 2013. The patients’ blood samples were tested for a compound called TMAO that is produced in the body when bacteria in the body digest lecithin. High TMAO levels point to increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

The study says that a high intake of red meat and eggs that are rich in lecithin is a precursor to heart disease. However, the diet may not actually be at fault – it is the way some people digest the lecithin that can increase the risk. This blood test can predict that people with high TMAO levels are two and a half times more at risk of suffering from a heart attack than a person with normal TMAO levels. This test can create greater awareness among the patients and their attending physicians so that they take good care to reduce the risks, using a combination of medicine, dietary changes and exercise as well as closer monitoring.

If you or a family member already has lifestyle factors that predispose you to increased risk of a heart attack, you may want to talk to your doctor about when these tests will be available for general use.


American Heart Association

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