Emergency rooms are often the first stop for someone with chest pains. A blood test for a protein called cardiac troponin T (cTnT) then determines if it's a heart attack.
"This test has been used for a long time and it's (troponin) usually quite high when people are having a heart attack," said Dr. Amit Khera, a cardiologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
But doctors in Dallas wanted to know: is troponin present in the blood in people with no symptoms of heart disease? Researchers at UTSMC took blood samples from thousands of people to get the answer. They found troponin is there, in much lower levels, and those with detectable levels were nearly seven times more likely to die within six years from heart disease.
"This test is among the most powerful predictors of death in the general population we've seen so far," said Dr. James de Lemos, associate professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and lead author of the study. "Because this test seems to identify cardiovascular problems that were previously unrecognized, we hope in the future to be able to use it to prevent some death and disability from heart failure and other chronic coronary artery disease," Dr. de Lemos said in a Dec. 2010 news release from the medical school.
The highly sensitive test for cardiac troponin is not widely available right now. Researchers say after more study, though, it has the potential for use in physician's offices.
"We know that people still dieof heart disease despite all that we know, so any chance we can to find something new to better combat this, that's what we're trying to do," said Dr. Khera who was also involved in the study.