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Blood test rules out heart attack faster than standard tests

The symptoms of heart attack are present in less deadly conditions, making it important for doctors to rule out a cardiac cause.

By Stephen Feller
Blood test rules out heart attack faster than standard tests
Patients often have to stay in the hospital for 12 or more hours awaiting test results to rule out a heart attack. Photo by Kzenon/Shutterstock

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- A test that measures blood for a protein released by damaged heart cells may help doctors rule out heart attack faster in patients with similar symptoms, researchers at the University of Edinburgh say.

The symptoms of heart attack -- discomfort or a dull ache in the chest, and pain that spreads to the back or arms -- can also be caused by other conditions, like indigestion.

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In order to rule out a heart attack, patients often are kept in the hospital for 12 hours or more waiting for test results, causing stress and costing money.

"Our study shows that low heart troponin concentrations identify up to two-thirds of patients who are at very low risk of heart attack and could be safely discharged," Dr. Anoop Shah, a clinical research fellow at the University of Edinburgh, said in a press release. "These findings could dramatically reduce unnecessary hospital admissions and provide substantial cost savings."

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The protein troponin is a combination of three individual proteins that play a role in muscle contraction. Troponin is detectable in the blood when heart cells are damaged.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh measured for levels of troponin in 6,304 patients at four hospitals in Scotland who presented to doctors with symptoms similar to heart attack. Based on levels in the blood, researchers accurately predicted 99.4 percent of the time whether the people had had a heart attack or were at risk for one.

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"A faster, more accurate diagnosis of whether chest pain is caused by a heart attack would be better for patients," Jeremy Pearson, a professor at the British Heart Foundation, told the BBC. "No one wants to be in hospital unless they have to be. What's important about this study is that the evidence shows you can quickly and confidently rule out a heart attack without compromising patient safety."

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The study was published in The Lancet.

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