A SIMPLE blood test could detect twice as many heart attacks in women as the standard NHS method, Scottish research suggests.
The new test is much more sensitive than the one currently used by doctors and is particularly effective in picking up cases in women, according to a study by Edinburgh University.
The test works by detecting levels of troponin, a protein that leaks into the blood from heart muscle cells after they have been damaged by a heart attack.
The new test can measure much lower levels of troponin than the one used by the NHS.
The researchers found it was particularly effective in women because they appear to have lower troponin levels than men. Until now, it had been assumed that levels of troponin were the same in men and women.
Experts believe the findings could lead to far more women being diagnosed with a heart attack, potentially saving lives.
Dr Nicholas Mills, one of the study authors and a cardiologist from Edinburgh University, presented the findings at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) conference in Amsterdam.
The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), involved 1,126 patients attending hospital with symptoms of a heart attack.
But by the time the research is completed in 2016, a larger study across ten centres in Scotland will have looked at more than 25,000 patients.
Dr Mills said: “While men and women are just as likely to present to the emergency department with chest pain, men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a heart attack.”
The researcher said using the procedure – called the high- sensitive troponin-I (hsTnI) test – meant the frequency of diagnosis of heart attacks in women increased and was comparable to men.
“The findings of our study, when completed, could change the way we diagnose heart attacks in women, potentially reducing inequalities in the treatment and outcomes, and enabling everyone to receive the best care,” Dr Mills added.
Coronary heart disease is one of the biggest killers of women in the UK – killing about three times more women than breast cancer. More than 30,500 women die from it each year, mostly due to a heart attack.
At present, there are about 900,000 women in the UK living with coronary heart disease, around half of whom have suffered a heart attack.
Heart disease in women is currently under-diagnosed and under-treated – possibly due to the difficulty in detecting lower levels of troponin.
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the BHF, said: “If confirmed in larger studies, these results suggest that the test could save more women’s lives by identifying those at risk of a major heart attack.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service is currently also piloting the use of a test to detect troponin in suspected heart attack patients while they are en route to hospital.