Heart Attack Test Hugely Reduces Hospital Admissions
There are many causes of chest pain: perhaps it’s strained muscles or joint inflammation, pneumonia, a panic attack… or even a dreaded heart attack.
The prospect of a heart attack is enough to make anyone want to get checked out at A&E if they have any sort of pain in their chest, and quite rightly so.
Unfortunately, should you find yourself in this situation in the UK, you could spend almost a whole day at hospital, only to be sent home with a clean bill of health. This is because 80% of those who visit the A&E with a suspected heart attack are often experiencing something else but have to await the results of a blood test.
This blood test checks for a chemical called troponin, which is released by damaged heart muscle during a heart attack. The patient is tested for the chemical when they are first admitted and again 12 hours later, which is a long time to find out you’ve not had a heart attack.
But now a study from the University of Edinburgh has found that a new blood test can determine if someone has had a heart attack much quicker than before – and with almost 100% accuracy.
The team says the new test also looks for troponin, but can detect much lower levels and only needs to be checked once. This means that those given the “all clear” can go straight home, reducing stress for patients, saving money for the NHS, and easing pressure on hospital wards.
The Lancet study, involving more than 6,300 people, suggested that the test was about 99.6% accurate and so more than two-thirds of patients can be discharged much more quickly.
Dr Atul Anand, study co-author and a physician at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, described the findings as “really exciting”.
“It can be a devastating blow to learn you have had a heart attack,” Dr Anand said. “We would much rather be able to rule this diagnosis out early and prevent unnecessary stress and an overnight stay in hospital.”
He added that it’s hoped the team will soon have enough evidence to change current clinical guidelines to ensure more accurate diagnoses of heart attacks.
At the moment, not all hospitals have the facilities to perform the new test. But for those that do, the test will cost under £10, and Dr Anand said it would be relatively straightforward to introduce the test.
Co-author Dr Anoop Shah was also part of the team to develop a more sensitive heart attack test for women. He said this new troponin test is likely to have major benefits for patients and healthcare providers alike.
He explained that there wasn’t a quick way to rule out a heart attack until now, and the findings “could dramatically reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and provide substantial savings.”
Professor Jeremy Pearson is the Associate Medical Director for Research at the British Heart Foundation. He explained that while doctors want to ensure a heart diagnosis is never missed, they also don’t want people to have to go through unnecessary tests or spend more time in hospital than they have to.
“What’s important about this study,” he said, “is that the evidence shows you can quickly and confidently rule out a heart attack without compromising patient safety.”
To find out more about heart attacks and what you should do if you think you are having one, check out the NHS Choices website.