Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center recommend using five various tests to accurately determine a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease. Their recommendations are published in the journal Circulation, the flagship publication of the American Heart Association (AHA).
“There has been a real need to bring modern science to the problem of heart disease risk prediction, which has relied on traditional risk factors for decades. We wanted to determine whether advances in imaging and blood-based biomarkers could help us to better identify who was at risk for heart disease… This set of tests is really powerful in identifying unexpected risk among individuals with few traditional risk factors. These are people who would not be aware that they are at risk for heart disease and might not be targeted for preventive therapies,” said researcher Dr. James de Lemos in an article published in MedicalDaily.com.
“These five tests have all stood on their own already. And they each tell us something different about potential heart problems – they’re additive. As a result, we are getting a good look at global cardiovascular disease risk,” researcher Dr. Amit Khera added in UTSouthWestern.edu.
According to the researchers, these tests may prove more beneficial in identifying heart disease risk in patients compared with traditional risk factors.
- Electrocardiogram – A 12-lead electrocardiogram provides data about heart muscle thickening, which is medically known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. About 1.5 million U.S. patients suffer from the condition. Developing enlarged heart muscles can be hereditary, or can be triggered by aging or high blood pressure.
- Coronary calcium scan – This test is a limited, low-radiation cardiovascular CT scan. Coronary calcium scan helps measure and detect calcium levels in the arteries. [Editor’s note: While this test may be frequently recommended by medical professionals, it also exposes the patient to considerable ionizing radiation. The possible benefits of such a test must be carefully weighed before undergoing the procedure.]
- C-reactive protein blood test – A blood test that measures C-reactive protein levels may help identify inflammation in patients.
- NT-proBNP test – A blood test for NT-proBNP measures cardiovascular stress.
- High-sensitivity troponin T test – This test may help determine levels of troponin T, a cardiac muscle protein released at the event of heart muscle damage.
The research team, however, cautioned that these tests are not for everyone. The experts also said that the tests should only be done with a doctor that specializes in heart disease prevention in order to attain clear data interpretation.
The facts on cardiovascular disease
Cardiovascular disease remains the top killer worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of deaths globally, with more people dying from it annually compared with any other disease. WHO data also show that an estimated 17.5 million people died from cardiovascular disease in 2012 alone, which equates to 31 percent of all global deaths in the said year. Approximately 7.4 million of these deaths are associated with coronary heart disease, while 6.7 million are linked to stroke. More than 75 percent of heart disease-related deaths worldwide occur in low- and middle income countries. Furthermore, cardiovascular disease accounted for 37 percent of global deaths due to noncommunicable deaths among patients younger than 70 years old.
Current heart disease data on the U.S. population are reflective of the WHO findings. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease continues to be the number one cause of mortality among Americans at an annual death rate of more than 600,000. CDC data also show that 28.4 million Americans are currently diagnosed with heart disease, which equates to 11.7 percent of the general population. According to the CDC, the number of heart disease-related visits to physicians is 18.6 million, while the number of visits to hospital outpatient departments is 1.9 million. The number of disease-related emergency department visits was 748,000.