A SIMPLE blood test could rule out a diagnosis of a heart attack in two thirds of patients when they arrive at emergency departments complaining of chest pain, according to Scots scientists.
More than a million people visit A&E departments with acute chest pain each year compared with 26,000 Scots who suffered heart attacks.
Researchers from Edinburgh University believe that routine use of this test could double the number of people with chest pain who can be directly discharged, saving the NHS money on diagnostic tests.
The study, published today in the Lancet journal, measured levels of a protein, known as troponin, in the blood stream which is released from the heart during a heart attack.
If the person had less than five nanograms of troponin per litre, then they are at very low risk of having had a heart attack or having one in the next 30 days.
Dr Atul Anand, who co-authored the research at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, said: “It can be a devastating blow to learn you’ve had a heart attack.
“We’d much rather be able to rule this diagnosis out early and prevent unnecessary stress and an overnight stay in hospital.
“This research has highlighted a quick way to rule out a heart attack in A&E. With further results from this clinical trial we hope to have enough evidence to change clinical guidelines to ensure more accurate diagnosis of heart attacks.”
Current approaches for assessing patients with suspected heart attacks either require admission into hospital or lengthy stays in the emergency department for repeat testing.
The results of this study could be used to shape national and international clinical guidelines on the early rule-out of heart attacks.
Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, which funded the study, said: “A faster, more accurate diagnosis of whether chest pain is caused by a heart attack would be better for patients and save the NHS money. We want to ensure no heart attack diagnosis is missed but we equally don’t want to see people go through unnecessary tests and spend extended periods in hospital unless it is essential. 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.”
The researchers are continuing a wider clinical trial of over 26,000 patients to assess other impacts of using the test.