Heart disease is usually not detected until symptoms present themselves. Sometimes, it remains undiscovered until there is heart failure. Timely detection of heart disease risk can help provide timely intervention and mitigate risk.
Traditionally, doctors base their diagnosis on parameters such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. However, researchers have recently discovered a protein called troponin that is present in the blood of patients at risk of heart disease. This can be detected by a simple blood test.
Troponin and heart disease
Patients who experience chest pain are tested for troponin, as it is an indicator of a heart attack. Thus, its use as an indicator of heart disease has already been established.
Researchers at the University of Oslo used this as a basis to test blood samples of people and compare the results with existing data to determine whether troponin is indeed an indicator of heart disease risk.
Researchers used blood samples of 9,000 Norwegians collected for a previous health study between the years 1995–97 and 2006–08. These samples were collected from patients with heart disease, although they did not exhibit any symptoms. These samples were frozen and kept.
Based on the results, researchers categorized the participants’ samples into three groups: those that had low levels of troponin, those with a moderate amount of troponin, and those whose tests showed high levels of troponin.
Researchers then compared the data with the hospital records of death up to the year 2010. They found that 330 of the participants died from heart disease—370 suffered a heart attack and 135 had heart failure. These numbers made up approximately eight percent of the participants whose blood they had tested.
They established troponin as the common denominator and deemed it a heart disease risk factor. In addition, they found that many of these people had high levels of troponin even 14 years prior to their diagnosis of heart disease. Troponin is a good indicator of future heart disease.
The next step
According to Magnus Nakrem Lyngbakken, a researcher at the University of Oslo, the reason why people with heart disease have high levels of troponin has not yet been discovered. However, it is possible that troponin is produced at the time of low-grade heart failure.
Lyngbakken believes that troponin is a better indicator of the risk of heart disease than high cholesterol levels. Scientists hope to use the findings to develop a blood test that can be conducted by doctors to determine whether a patient is at risk of heart disease. According to Fjola Sigurdardottir, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oslo, this will be helpful to identify candidates for preventive treatment.
Also read: 10 ways to lower your risk of heart disease