Health

Heart attack test 'cuts hospital stays'

Chest pain Image copyright Thinkstock

A blood test can more than halve the number of people admitted to hospital with a suspected heart attack, say doctors.

They say the rapid test, which looks for a chemical in the blood, would reduce stress for patients, save money and ease pressure on hospital wards.

Trials on 6,304 people, published in the Lancet medical journal, suggested it was 99.6% accurate.

The British Heart Foundation said the test would produce faster answers without affecting patient safety.

About one million people attend A&E departments in the UK with chest pain, only for most of them to be sent home after a sometimes lengthy and anxious stay.

They have levels of troponin, a chemical released by damaged heart muscle, tested when they are admitted and again 12 hours later.

The new test also looks for troponin, but can detect much lower levels and needs to be done only once. So those given the all-clear can go straight home.


Symptoms

Image copyright SPL
  • a dull pain, ache or "heavy" feeling in the chest
  • mild discomfort in the chest that makes you feel generally unwell
  • pain that spreads to the back, arm or stomach
  • pain that feels bad indigestion
  • feeling light-headed or dizzy

The study, led by the University of Edinburgh and taking place in Scottish and US hospitals, estimated that two-thirds of patients could be discharged much more quickly.

Dr Atul Anand, one of the researchers and a physician at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, told the BBC News website: "It's really exciting. When you look at patients who come to medical wards with chest pain, 80% are going home 12 hours later.

"This avoids the hassle, cost and patient stress."

He said the test cost less than £10 although not all hospitals currently had the facilities to perform the more sensitive test.

However, Dr Anand said it would be "pretty straightforward" to introduce and there was a "clamouring" to do.

Last year the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommended the NHS uses the more sensitive troponin testing kit however it is unclear when the NHS will move from a double to a single test.


My suspected heart attack

Image caption Dominic Hughes, right, was rushed to hospital with chest pain

By Dominic Hughes, health correspondent

Three years ago I woke in the middle of the night with crushing chest pains and was rushed to my local hospital.

Once we reached A&E I was given a blood test, looking for the chemical troponin, but the existing test has to be repeated after at least six hours.

So there I lay, waiting anxiously for the result, taking up a valuable bed.

Like 80% of people with chest pain, it wasn't a heart attack, just a footballing injury gone haywire.

But this new test would have saved me some anxious moments, and freed up capacity in a busy A&E.


Prof Jeremy Pearson, from the British Heart Foundation, 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.

"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."

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