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Biomarkers aim to help predict heart disease risk, from the August 2014 Harvard Women's Health Watch

 Wouldn't it be wonderful if a single blood test could gauge the heart's health? Medicine isn't quite yet at that point. But there are a few indicators that can signal where your cardiovascular health is headed and let you know whether you need to take action now to prevent a heart attack or stroke, according to the August 2014 Harvard Women's Health Watch.

Substances called biomarkers they reflect processes that are going on inside the body. "Biomarkers could be used both for predicting disease risk and for selecting those who would potentially benefit most from therapy," says Dr. Samia Mora, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

A good biomarker must be accurate, easy to measure, and safe. Think cholesterol. A useful biomarker also needs to provide new information beyond what other tests already offer. Over the last decade or so, researchers have been testing several other biomarkers to help fine-tune heart disease prediction. They include:

  • C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation in the body.
  • Apolipoproteins, types of protein that travel in the blood with cholesterol.
  • Lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2, an enzyme released by immune system cells.
  • B-type natriuretic peptide, a hormone produced in response to excess stress on the heart.

Many of the processes and risks these biomarkers identify are the same in men and women. But because women naturally have different levels of certain biomarkers, the tests used to measure these biomarkers may need to be interpreted differently or have separate thresholds for men and women.

A single biomarker won't be the great crystal ball able to predict a future heart attack. But a group of biomarkers taken together could give valuable insight into a person's cardiovascular future. "I think there will probably be a panel of biomarkers that can identify risk based on different underlying processes," Dr. Mora says.

Read the full-length article: "Predicting heart disease risk in women"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Women's Health Watch

  • Prevent falls and immobility: Start with these strength-training tips
  • Ask the doctor: How do I organize my pills?
  • Ask the doctor: How safe are opioid pain relievers?
  • Predicting heart disease risk in women
  • Summer skin safety
  • What meditation can do for your mind, mood, and health
  • How to avoid overload and burnout
  • Staying socially active is good for your health
  • Exercise to protect your heart
  • One drink a day might prevent a stroke-but don't overdo it

More Harvard Health News »


About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.