05/09/2013 08:04 BST | Updated 05/11/2013 05:12 GMT

New Blood Test Detects Heart Attack Risk, Is Particularly Accurate With Women Patients

A simple blood test could detect twice as many women suffering a heart attack as the standard NHS test, 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.

It detects levels of troponin, a protein that leaks into the blood from heart muscle cells after they have been damaged by a heart attack.

woman heart

Doctors measure troponin to see if a heart attack is the reason why somebody is suffering chest pains.

The new test - called the high sensitive troponin-I (hsTnI) test - can measure much lower levels of troponin than the one currently used by the NHS.

Research found it is 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 new 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 the University of Edinburgh, presented the findings at the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) conference in Amsterdam.

"Whilst men and women are just as likely to present to the emergency department with chest pain, currently men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with a heart attack," he said.

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He said using the 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."

The research, funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), involved 1,126 patients attending hospital with symptoms of a heart attack.

A larger study will be completed in 2016 involving more than 25,000 patients across 10 centres in Scotland.

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Coronary heart disease is one of the biggest killers of women in the UK - killing around 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 around 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 underdiagnosed and undertreated - possibly due to the difficulty in detecting lower levels of troponin.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the BHF, said: "It is well recognised that having a mild heart attack puts you at greater risk of having a more serious one in the future if it's not identified and treated.

"We also know that women with heart disease are less easily identified than men.

"This research has shown that the normal range for a blood test - that detects small amounts of heart damage - is different in men and women.

"When results are adjusted for this difference, many more women are identified with underlying heart disease than with the conventional test.

"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 test is manufactured by Abbott Diagnostics.

Dr John Frels, divisional vice president of diagnostics research at Abbott, said: "While Abbott's high sensitive troponin test benefits both men and women with earlier detection of heart attacks, the potential to increase the diagnosis among women is especially important.

"This is the first time we have seen a test that can provide this kind of detailed information to doctors and has the potential to aid doctors with improving the odds of survival for women with heart attacks."