Research we're watching: A better way to predict fatal heart events

Harvard Heart Letter

In emergency departments, doctors routinely test blood levels of a protein called troponin to diagnose people with suspected heart attacks. That's because damaged heart muscle releases troponin into the bloodstream. Now, new research suggests that a high-sensitivity troponin test may help identify people with heart disease who face a high risk of fatal heart events.

For the study, published in the August 13 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers measured troponin levels with the high-sensitivity test in nearly 2,300 people with type 2 diabetes and stable heart disease (meaning they had narrowed heart arteries and chest pain but not a heart attack). Within five years, nearly one in three people with elevated troponin levels had a heart-related problem or died from one.

Currently, the high-sensitivity troponin test isn't approved for use in the United States. And even if it were, the in-formation wouldn't necessarily be useful for patients. Those who received prompt artery-opening procedures fared no better than those who did not receive those treatments. Still, the findings suggest that troponin testing may one day enable doctors to predict dangerous heart events more precisely.