can a simple blood test help diagnose heart attacks

Statistics show that more than 15 million people here in the U.S. and across Europe report to emergency rooms complaining of chest pains every year. While the majority of these cases involve conditions that can create symptoms mirroring a heart attack, such as anxiety or indigestion, there are many for whom these chest pains are indeed signs of a heart attack.

Unfortunately, statistics also reveal that as many as 2 percent of these patients actually suffering heart attacks are misdiagnosed and sent home without further treatment, a scenario that can have fatal consequences.

In recognition of this problem and the fact that many people are perhaps admitted to the hospital unnecessarily for chest pains — costing them large sums of money and even subjecting them to an elevated infection risk — researchers in Sweden set out to determine whether a simple blood test in conjunction with an electrocardiogram could definitely rule out a heart attack in the emergency room.

The blood test in question looks for the presence of a substance known as troponin, which is typically detected in the blood after some degree of cardiological damage has occurred.

As part of the study, published in the most recent edition of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, the researchers used the combination blood test and electrocardiogram to test 15,000 patients over a two-year span.

While roughly 21 percent of these patients ended up being admitted to the hospital, the remainder was sent home after showing low scores on the troponin test and a stable electrocardiogram. Here, the researchers determined that of these nearly 9,000 patients sent home, only 15 went on to have heart attacks within the next month and only one died.

“We believe that with this strategy, 20 to 25 percent of admissions to hospitals for chest pains may be avoided,” said one of the primary researchers.

While medical experts here in America are intrigued by the study, they say more research is needed before the troponin test is widely adopted, as it may perhaps be too sensitive and necessitate other superfluous tests.

This study is certainly encouraging in the respect that it may help reduce those otherwise tragic and unacceptable circumstances in which harried ER physicians mistakenly send home people who later suffer massive heart attacks. However, until such time as better testing is available, you have a right to expect to be provided with quality care, including the performance of all routine tests to diagnose a heart attack and even admission to the hospital.

Source: ABC News, “Test accurately rules out heart attacks in the ER,” Marilynn Marchione, March 30, 2014  

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